When the BYU Cougars returned to the Orleans Arena court Tuesday night, 19 hours after fighting their way into the West Coast Conference tournament championship game, they had nothing left.
No initial energy, no offensive success and no defensive answers for Gonzaga.
That list also should include no excuses, no disclaimers and no rationalizations for their 75-64 loss.
BYU deserves praise for cutting Gonzaga’s lead to eight points late in the game, while all-tournament forward Kyle Collinsworth watched from the end of the bench with his right knee heavily wrapped in ice and his chin in his hand.
Yet there’s no ignoring how the Cougars’ trailing by 20 meant that any progress they made was mainly for cosmetic purposes. BYU’s 35-percent shooting “made it really tough for us to get any momentum,” said coach Dave Rose.
If the theory was that the Cougars would wear down in the second half after outlasting San Francisco in overtime Monday, they flipped the script with a very poor start. “We weren’t fighting as much as we did in the second half,” said freshman center Eric Mika.
This performance’s redeeming value was merely that BYU battled its way out of potential embarrassment, for the sake of NCAA credibility. “We should find ourselves in that tournament,” said guard Tyler Haws.
Collinsworth’s injury is a variable going forward. Rose’s update included “a lot of pain,” with an exam scheduled Wednesday.
As for Tuesday’s episode, this matchup is what everybody pictured when the Cougars joined the WCC: Gonzaga and BYU in the tournament championship game. Well, the Cougars were introduced as contestants, anyway. They fully participated in the second half, but by then it was too late to make much impact.
BYU was trying to win a conference tournament title for the first time since 2001, when Rose was assisting Steve Cleveland and Mekeli Wesley was in a starring role. The Cougars now have lost four times in championship games under Rose, and they were never really in this one.
Gonzaga led 44-27 at halftime. The summary: The Cougars were taking bad shots and missing them; the Bulldogs were passing up good shots and getting better ones. Those guys looked like the Zags of old, while BYU appeared lifeless and overwhelmed by the opponent and the moment. Maybe the Cougars (23-11) figured they’d done enough to make the NCAA field, and that’s almost a certainty - but it will be a mildly agonizing Selection Sunday for them.
With a son of John Stockton in the starting lineup, Gonzaga is likely Utahns’ favorite non-Utah school. That’s disregarding the sign in the BYU student section: “We all know Stocktons don’t win championships.”
Actually, they do. David Stockton, who lived in Salt Lake City through sixth grade, capped a nice sequence of family events. His sister Laura helped Gonzaga Prep win a Washington state championship Saturday, the same night when David’s layup gave the Bulldogs a victory over Santa Clara in the WCC quarterfinals.
And then he tied his career high with 21 points in a semifinal defeat of Saint Mary’s, pretty much securing his spot on the all-tournament team.
“He’s really crafty, he’s really fast, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Rose said.
Stockton totaled 33 points and 15 assists in the tournament, plus a ferocious block of BYU guard Anson Winder’s driving shot. Gonzaga teammate Sam Dower eclipsed him for most outstanding player honors.
As we all know, Stocktons don’t worry about that stuff.