Las Vegas • Jahshire Hardnett drove hard to the basket and scored BYU’s first points in its third West Coast Conference tournament championship game Tuesday night. After Luke Worthington and Elijah Bryant missed open shots they’ve made all season, Yoeli Childs drained a 3-pointer to give the Cougars a 5-0 lead over No. 6 Gonzaga.
It appeared that BYU’s offense, which had scored 85 points in both its quarterfinal win over San Diego and its semifinal win over Saint Mary’s, would click again in front of 8,030 at Orleans Arena. Perhaps the Cougars should have stopped there. Gonzaga eventually figured out how to stop Childs, whose 3-pointer with two minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the first half tied the score at 27 apiece, and routed BYU 74-54 to win its sixth straight conference tournament title.
“I mean, Gonzaga, they just played really well and then just shut us down. That kind of sums it up,” Hardnett said. “We were hanging with them, but they kept making shots and we didn’t, and then we weren’t able to keep up at the end of the first half and that just gave them more fire for the second half.”
Oh, the end of the first half. The Cougars will remember those last three minutes for a long time.
Right after Childs’ third 3-pointer — he made six straight dating back to the Saint Mary’s game — Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins drove unchecked to the rim for a layup. Silas Melson added a triple after an offensive rebound, and Johnathan Williams scored with just over a minute remaining in the half.
After BYU coach Dave Rose got a timeout to stop the bleeding, Bryant missed a 3-pointer and Zach Norvell Jr. drove and scored.
Childs scored his 18th point of the first half with 10 seconds left on a floater, but the Cougars didn’t get back and Perkins beat the halftime buzzer to give the Zags a 38-29 lead at the break.
Ball game. Gonzaga scored the first 11 points of the second half, and that was that.
“Their length and their activity around the ball caused us problems,” Hardnett said. “They knew how to switch on our ball screens and stuff like that. They kinda took control and made some plays, and we couldn’t get them stopped once it got going.”
The Cougars shot just 35 percent and assisted on only seven of their 22 field goals. They lost the rebounding battle 41-33 and had just five second-chance points.
“They were a handful for us,” coach Dave Rose said of the Zags. “I am proud of our guys and how we competed early in the game. It is tough when games kind of get one-sided that way.”
Like they did in the 79-65 loss to Gonzaga on Feb. 24 in Provo, the Cougars not named Yoeli Childs couldn’t make 3-pointers. He was 3 for 4 from distance, but his teammates were 3 of 15, and Bryant again struggled for the third straight game against Gonzaga.
BYU’s leading scorer was 1 of 5 from the beyond the arc, 5 of 14 overall.
“Their defense was tough, but we just didn’t do the things we were supposed to do to get open shots,” Hardnett said.