Spokane, Wash. • Just as in BYU’s last three visits to the Kennel, this one was there for the taking.
But No. 14-ranked Gonzaga made the big plays down the stretch, and held off the Cougars 68-60 at the sold-out McCarthey Athletic Center to get a measure of revenge for BYU’s past three upset wins here.
With the scored tied at 59-59 after another BYU comeback, Zach Norvell Jr. hit a 3-pointer with two minutes, 21 seconds remaining and the Zags held on as the Cougars went the rest of the way without making a field goal.
“They executed down the stretch. They made a couple of big plays,” said BYU’s Luke Worthington, who had a career-high 16 points, but missed a free throw after Norvell’s big shot. “They are a really good team, and they are experienced. There is a reason why they are ranked [14th] in the nation.”
The Cougars were able to pull away late in their last three games in front of Gonzaga’s 6,000 screaming fans, but not this time.
Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams made a driving layup after the Worthington miss, and TJ Haws and Yoeli Childs missed heavily contested shots near the rim through contact. Then the Cougars turned it over on their next two possessions, finishing with 12 giveaways.
“We were really aggressive and got into tough physical spots where their physicality overmatched us,” BYU coach Dave Rose said of the final two minutes. “I thought we could have got the benefit of a whistle or two there that could have helped us through it.”
The Cougars dropped to 7-5 in West Coast Conference play, 18-7 overall, but were a totally different team than the one that lost 76-69 to lowly Loyola Marymount on Thursday. They threw a big scare into the Zags (11-1, 21-4), again.
“Man, we’re bummed it slipped away from us,” Worthtington said. “But I’m glad to know we can compete at their level, and that is really the level we should be competing at every night.”
Haws led BYU with 22 points and Yoeli Childs added 14 points and 11 rebounds, but the Cougars’ leading scorer, Elijah Bryant, had an off night after getting whacked in the face in the first half at LMU.
Bryant was 0 of 8 from the 3-point line and 1 of 11 from the field and finished with four points, a season low. He scored two points in each half.
“Elijah is capable of making a lot of those plays, but it wasn’t for lack of effort,” Rose said.
Credit Gonzaga for taking away BYU’s best scorer, Rose said, something Gonzaga is known for doing. But Bryant simply missed a lot of shots he usually makes.
The Cougars were 3 of 20 from deep, while the Zags were 6 of 22. Norvell was just 2 of 9, but hit the biggest shot of his young career.
“We played well, played together, competed hard,” Rose said. “If we had made a few more 3s, it probably would have been a different story. This is [normally] a good shooting team, but this trip we had a tough time from the [3-point] line.”
Trailing by 10 at halftime, the Cougars cut the deficit to four with a quick 11-6 run. Three-point attempts by Haws and Bryant rattled out during a stretch when GU had five straight empty possession, keeping the Cougars from taking the lead.
Bryant hit a pair of free throws to tie it at 43 with 13:18 remaining, but Gonzaga stretched its advantage to eight on Norvell’s first basket after he rebounded his own 3-point miss.
Still, the Cougars kept coming, as they usually do at the McCarthey Athletic Center, and the huge crowd grew uneasy.
Haws scored 10 straight points to lead BYU’s comeback before Norvell’s dagger.
“I just thought that they were just really good when it counted,” Rose said. “It is a talented, athletic, physical team, and we just needed to execute better in those spots. Maybe we got a little bit impatient. But hey, these guys competed. All they need to do is make a couple more plays, and it would have been a different [outcome].”
The Cougars were 1 of 9 from deep in the first half, and fell behind 36-26 at halftime.
Gonzaga’s bench outscored BYU’s reserves 22-0, as Rui Hachimura added 15 and Corey Kispert seven to Gonzaga’s total.
“In all honesty, it was a completely different team tonight, and I am proud of our guys and how we competed,” Worthington said.
• Zach Norvell’s 3-pointer with under three minutes remaining breaks a 59-59 tie and hands the Zags their first win over BYU at the McCarthey Center since 2014.
• TJ Haws leads BYU with 22 points, while leading scorer Elijah Bryant has just four, a season low.
• The Cougars go 3 of 20 from 3-point range in losing their second straight game