No. 6 Gonzaga routs BYU to clinch conference title

Gonzaga guard Silas Melson (0) reacts after dunking the ball while BYU guard Jahshire Hardnett (0) looks on in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Provo • BYU basketball coach Dave Rose was sick to his stomach before Saturday’s West Coast Conference regular-season finale against No. 6 Gonzaga.

What he saw the next 40 minutes, sans a BYU spurt the last six minutes of the first half, only made it worse.

The Bulldogs took a five-point halftime lead and turned a competitive game into a laugher in the blink of an eye early in the second half and routed BYU 79-65 in front of 18,987 at the sold-out Marriott Center.

Gonzaga (27-4, 17-1) won the WCC title outright with its 11th straight victory and has taken 17 of the last 18 WCC championships. The Cougars (22-9, 11-7) were locked into the third seed for next week’s WCC tournament before the game tipped off and will face San Diego next Saturday in Las Vegas. Any momentum they garnered with Thursday’s road win at Portland and Saturday’s solid first half in which they trailed just 43-38 at the break was derailed by Gonzaga’s utter dominance in the second half.

“I thought that we kinda competed with them in stretches, but they had several guys step up and make plays, and that’s what championship teams do,” said BYU assistant coach Tim LaComb.

LaComb filled in for Rose because the head coach has been battling a stomach flu the past couple of days and barely made it to the game. He headed home as soon as the final buzzer sounded.

In reality, it had ended much sooner than that.

Trailing 43-38 at halftime after Josh Perkins’ long 3-pointer reversed the momentum with six seconds remaining until the break, the Cougars missed 12 of their first 15 shots in the second half and were out of it midway through the half.

Elijah Bryant, who scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half, saw a 3-point attempt rattle in and out with less than a minute left in the first half that would have given the Cougars the lead after they trailed by as many as 14 points earlier in the half.

“Momentum was really good right there,” LaComb lamented. “That thing rattles out, and then they get the last possession, and Perkins buries a tough shot.”

Six Bulldogs reached double figures, led by Johnathan Williams with 16 and Zach Norvell Jr. with 15. The Zags shot 55 percent and held the Cougars to 38 percent.

“We just have to hit shots to put ourselves in better position,” said Bryant, who followed his 1-of-10 shooting performance in the 68-60 loss in Spokane, Wash., three weeks ago with a 5-for-17 night in the rematch. “When we are not making shots and can’t get stops, it is a recipe for disaster.”

Perkins, who had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, barely beat the shot clock with an NBA-range 3-pointer to open the second half, and the Zags were off and running. The Cougars made just two field goals in the first eight minutes of the half and had just seven in the second half.

“They’ve got great players and to their credit they just tend to make the right play,” LaComb said. “We were happy with [some] moments. In the first half it could have gotten away from us, and our guys showed character and got that thing back.”

Too bad halftime came at that point, he said.

Jashire Hardnett hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the game and had 10 at halftime, but he also cooled off and finished with just 11.

“Offensively, we just kind of hit the skids,” LaComb said. “In spurts tonight we had a real competitive edge to us.”

So the Cougars finished with the most league losses, seven, in their seven seasons in the WCC. They lost four games to Gonzaga and runner-up Saint Mary’s by a combined 45 points, but Bryant said “we are just as good as them” when asked what the difference is between BYU and the Zags and Gaels.

Saturday, they had a strange way of showing that.

Storylines<br>• The No. 6 Zags blow open a close game early in the second half and win their fourth-straight game at the sold-out Marriott Center.<br>• Yoeli Childs leads BYU with 19 points and Elijah Bryant adds 16, but just three in the second half.<br>• The Cougars recover from an early 14-point deficit to close within two late in the first half, but shoot just 27 percent in the second half.

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