BYU keeps it close for 30 minutes before falling 102-68 at No. 2 Gonzaga

BYU guard Nick Emery (4) and guard McKay Cannon, right, and Gonzaga guard Geno Crandall go after the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Spokane, Wash., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

BYU was more competitive for longer stretches against Gonzaga at McCarthey Athletic Center on Saturday night than it was a month ago in Provo, but the outcome was worse.

The No. 2-ranked Zags, who could be No. 1 when the new rankings are released on Monday, routed the Cougars 102-68 in front of a sellout crowd of 6,000 for their fifth-straight win in the series.

Gonzaga defeated BYU 93-63 at the Marriott Center on Jan. 31, at the time the worst home loss in coach Dave Rose’s 14-year tenure. Saturday’s loss was the worst-ever for the Cougars under Rose, surpassing an 81-50 loss to Saint Mary’s in the 2017 WCC tournament semifinals.

BYU (10-5, 18-12) dropped out of second place in the West Coast Conference with its second straight loss because Saint Mary’s (10-4) routed San Diego in San Diego on Saturday.

The Zags improved to 14-0 in WCC play, having already clinched their seventh straight conference title, and 27-2 overall.

“Obviously, that’s one of the best teams in the country right now,” BYU’s Gavin Baxter told the BYU Radio Network after the Cougars’ worst loss since falling 86-50 to No. 4 North Carolina in 2004 in the Maui Classic.

Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws scored 18 points apiece for BYU, while Zach Norvell Jr. led the Zags with 25. Haws added eight assists, a career-high.

BYU never led and fell behind 11-4 just four minutes into the game, but did put together several spurts to make the home crowd a bit uneasy in the first half.

“I think we did a good job shifting from the [San Francisco] loss and focusing on the next game,” Baxter said. “The last 10 minutes, it just got away from us.”

McKay Cannon’s jumper cut the deficit to 23-17 with 12 minutes remaining in the half, but Gonzaga answered with an 8-2 run to push the lead back to double-digits.

It was just 31-26 in the Zags’ favor after another Cannon basket with seven minutes left. However, Norvell Jr., who had 18 points in the first half, hit consecutive 3-pointers and a 2-pointer and Rui Hachimura added a bucket to push GU’s lead back to 13. Hachimura finished with 23 and Josh Perkins had 21.

Gonzaga, which extended the longest winning streak in the country to 18 games, ended the first half on a 6-0 run. The Zags shot 57 percent in the first half, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range, and scored 15 points off eight BYU first-half turnovers.

The Cougars also had some decent stretches in the second half, but could never get closer than 10.

Gonzaga stretched its lead to 73-53 with 10 minutes remaining before Haws ended a four-minute scoring drought with a 3-pointer.

Rose was assessed a technical foul for protesting a non-call in the second half when Baxter’s shot was blocked by Corey Kispert. Gonzaga attempted 27 free throws, BYU just 13.

“Two losses this week, that sucks,” Baxter said. “But we got to keep improving. That’s the mindset.”

The Cougars haven’t defeated the Zags since that 79-71 win in 2017 that ruined GU’s perfect season.

BYU concludes the regular season on Saturday at home against San Diego for Senior Night.