Las Vegas • If Gonzaga is leaving the West Coast Conference, the No. 6 Zags made quite the statement on their way out the door.
And it came at the expense of the program that might follow the Zags to the Mountain West, BYU, if rumors of a pending conference shakeup prove to be true and the conference the Cougars left in 2011 will take them back.
The Cougars hung with the Zags for 17 minutes on Tuesday night in the WCC championship game, but the floodgates opened soon after as the Zags rolled to an easy 74-54 win and their sixth straight WCC tournament championship.
Gonzaga (30-4) put the game away with a 36-4 run in front of an pro-Zags crowd of 8,030 at Orleans Arena, leading by as many as 32 points in the second half before coach Mark Few took his foot off the gas.
“It never gets old,” Few said. “Every team is different. Every journey is different.”
This journey ended BYU’s NCAA Tournament hopes, as the Cougars (24-10) will miss the Big Dance for the third straight season. They will await a probable NIT bid on Sunday.
“We knew that we had put ourselves in a situation where the only direct route to the NCAA Tournament was to win all three of [the WCC tournament games], so we are going to go home a little disappointed,” BYU coach Dave Rose said.
Childs led BYU with 20 points and was the only Cougar on the all-tournament team, but 18 of those came in the first half, when he matched his first-half output from Monday’s stirring upset of Saint Mary’s. He was 1 of 6 from the field in the second half.
“He got the ball in some pretty tough spots,” Rose said of Childs’ second half. “We needed to get the ball to him in the angles where he is really good. He really played well in this tournament as far as the perimeter is concerned, and I think we talked about his perimeter game for a long time. We really got a chance to see how improved he is from there.
“But they made some really good adjustments on him, making it tougher for him to get an angle to score.”
As usual when BYU has lost this season, Childs and Elijah Bryant got little help. Bryant added 11 on 5-for-14 shooting, and sophomore Payton Dastrup scored 11 off the bench, all in the second half when the outcome had long been decided.
“I think they are a great team and they have great players over there and they are really well-coached. They hit a lot of shots. That’s what led to the run,” Bryant said, refusing to use fatigue as an excuse. “They just hit more shots and got the win.”
Killian Tillie led Gonzaga with 22 points and was named tournament MVP. Zach Norvell Jr. chipped in 17 points.
The game got away from the Cougars the final three minutes of the first half. Tied at 27 after a Childs basket, the Zags went on an 11-2 run to take a 38-29 halftime lead and continued that run well into the second half.
“We had a lot of confidence going into this game defensively, and for the first 17 minutes it was a battle. It was back and forth,” Dastrup said. “There were runs where both teams were really competitive offensively and defensively. But they were able to flip a switch to create some havoc on the defensive end for them, and it kind of disturbed us.”
The Cougars led for 4:11 of the first half after taking a quick 5-0 lead. But they scored on only three of their final 10 possessions of the first half as the Zags took control, and it only got worse after halftime.
BYU did not score in the second half until 14:55 remained, going eight possessions without a point. By then the celebration had begun at the Zags’ home away from home. Gonzaga improved to 23-2 at the arena off the Las Vegas Strip.
“What makes it is the Gonzaga fans, flat-out,” Few said. “It is like a home game.”
With a familiar ending.