Spokane, Wash. • While BYU came out of the gate strong, Gonzaga was just warming up. And then the Bulldogs really sunk their teeth on the Cougars.
No. 1 Gonzaga remained the lone undefeated team (6-0) in West Coast Conference play as the Bulldogs defeated BYU 92-69, Saturday in The Kennel. The Bulldogs also broke the WCC record for most consecutive regular season conference wins (33).
The Zags (20-1) became the first team in the nation to reach 20 wins this season, and reached 20 wins in a season for the 23rd straight season. BYU dropped to 14-6 overall, 3-2 WCC.
“This is one of the toughest places to play in the country, so when you have to play from behind, it can be real frustrating,” senior Dalton Nixon said. “I thought we did a good job, for the most part, of being able to just keep fighting and stick with the game plan, but a lot of credit to Gonzaga. Really good team. There’s a reason they’re No. 1 in the country. But we’re excited to keep getting better, and this is a good learning experience for us.”
Before the game started, Cougar fans got some unexpected news: Yoeli Childs was dressed and warming up with the team. Childs, who suffered an open dislocation of the right index finger on Jan. 7, had missed the previous three games. As it turned out, however, Childs never got into the contest.
BYU coach Mark Pope said he still doesn't quite know what Childs' status is. The senior still has more healing to do before he can take a hit and endure it, Pope said.
“So, we’ll just check every day and see how it’s going and hopefully we get him back soon,” Pope said. “But in the meantime, we’ve got to find a way to win this game. We can’t fall to pieces like that. We have to be better than that. I have to be better. My staff has to be better. We’ve just got to be better.”
BYU pounced on Gonzaga early, scoring first and easing its way to a 6-2 lead. But that would be the largest lead the Cougars would have.
Gonzaga eventually took the lead on a 3-pointer from Joel Ayayi. The Bulldogs began picking apart the Cougars and taking advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses to start pulling away.
While both teams committed eight turnovers in the first half, Gonzaga outrebounded BYU 21-14. Of the 21 boards, eight were offensive rebounds. The Cougars recovered only one offensive rebound in the first half.
The Zags scored 12 second-chance points to BYU’s two.
The Cougars’ other problem came from beyond the arc. BYU only made one of its eight 3-point attempts in the first half. Yet, after the Bulldogs led by as many as 13, the Cougars closed out the first half on an 11-5 run to cut their deficit to 38-31 at halftime.
But the second half didn’t start much better for the Cougars, who shot 3 of 10 from the field and 0 of 5 on 3-pointers in the first five minutes back.
By the end, Gonzaga would outrebound BYU 37-21.
“We just have to guard,” Pope said. “You know, 23% of their possessions are in transition and we did a great job in the first half and then we just fell to pieces in the second half. … With like 12 minutes left in the second half, they picked up the pace with how they were running their offense, and we didn't respond.”
Even though BYU shot 51% from the field, the Cougars still lost by 23 – a testament to the No. 1 team in offensive efficiency.
With their leading scorer, Filip Petrusev, going down with an ankle injury during the game, the Zags were led by Killian Tillie, who recorded 22 points. He was followed by Corey Kispert (19) and Ayayi and Admon Gilder with 14 points each. Ryan Woolridge was the fifth Bulldog in double digits with 11 points.
While BYU boasted six different players in double-digits in each of the last two games, that wasn’t the case in Spokane. TJ Haws and Jake Toolson led with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
And even though Toolson had 15 assists without a turnover in the last two games, he gave up possession three times against the Zags.
The Cougars will continue their three-game road stint at Pacific and San Francisco next week.
“We got punched in the mouth tonight,” Haws said. “This whole year, this team, we’ve been really good at bouncing back and getting back up after we get hit. And I think Monday we’re going to be right back at it and this team is definitely going to bounce back.”