Las Vegas • Just when the BYU Cougars were starting to think there might be a changing of the guard atop the West Coast Conference, the league’s most dominant force the last two decades put them back in their place on Tuesday night in front of 7,898 fans at Orleans Arena and a national television audience.
As a result, the next four days are going to be long ones as BYU finds itself in a familiar place: waiting for Selection Sunday and hoping it has done enough to get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Roaring out of the gates while BYU struggled on both ends of the court, Gonzaga took a big halftime lead and coasted past the Cougars 75-64 in the WCC championship game to earn the automatic bid and make the NCAAs for the 16th-straight year.
Gonzaga (28-6) led 44-27 at halftime, and BYU got no closer than eight points in the last 20 minutes.
“They played a terrific game, and they were really good, especially in the first 10 minutes,” Rose said.
So the Cougars dropped to 23-11, and stayed on the NCAA bubble, but with another pesky little matter that might convolute things for the selection committee.
Star guard Kyle Collinsworth went down with a right knee injury with 13:42 remaining in the game and the Cougars trailing 55-35, and did not return. He spent parts of the last 10 minutes watching from the bench with an ice pack on his knee.
Rose said he will have an MRI on it Wednesday, and that doctors were calling it only “an injured knee” and nothing else.
It is a factor the committee might consider when deciding if the Cougars should make the field.
As for Rose, he was typically noncommittal when asked if the Cougars, who had their six-game winning streak snapped, had done enough. But Zags coach Mark Few is convinced, despite BYU shooting just 35 percent and committing 14 turnovers against his defensively superior team.
“There isn’t a doubt in my mind that [BYU] is an NCAA Tournament team,” Few said.
BYU star Tyler Haws thinks so, too, after struggling to find his jumper for the second-straight night. Haws led all scorers with 24 points, but went 6 of 14 from the field after going 5 of 19 in BYU’s 79-77 overtime win over San Francisco on Monday.
“I think we should find ourselves in that tournament,” said Haws, who made the all-tournament team along with Collinsworth, USF’s Cole Dickerson, GU’s David Stockton and Sam Dower, the MVP. “This has been a challenging season, but I feel like our guys have come together, and I feel like we have done enough to get in.”
Ironically, the Cougars mounted a rally after Collinsworth’s departure, scoring 10 straight points. A couple free throws by Haws made it 66-58 with 2:27 left, and the Zags kept things mildly interesting by missing free throws down the stretch.
“We couldn’t get over the hump,” Rose said. “Thirty-five percent [shooting] from the field kinda made it really tough for us to get any momentum on the offensive end.”
Collinsworth had 13 points before leaving, slamming home a dunk just moments before the injury off Matt Carlino’s lob. Frank Bartley IV gave the Cougars a lift off the bench with nine points, but the player who usually provides that struggled as much as Haws to hit an open jumper. Carlino went 3 of 12, including 0 of 5 from 3-point range.
“We might have got winded, but I felt like our legs were still there and we battled all the way to the end,” Haws said.