Provo • With No. 2 Gonzaga coming to Provo to visit 23rd-ranked BYU, the Marriott Center saw its biggest game since the days of “Jimmer-mania.” If anything, it was at least the first time a ranked BYU squad went up against a ranked opponent at home since January 2011.
And the Cougars didn’t disappoint — beating the Zags, 91-78, for the first time since 2017 in front of a sold-out crowd.
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Add in the fact that it was BYU’s final home game — and the last time the seven seniors on the squad would play in front of their home crowd — and it made for a special night.
“That was unbelievable, just the fight that we had,” said senior Yoeli Childs, who finished with a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds. “I’m trying to be in the moment, but this team has such big goals that I can’t help to think how encouraging this is for our future — for making the run that we want to make and doing the things that we want to do. … Gonzaga’s a great team and they made their runs and they had great players out there making great plays, but nothing they did slowed us down and it makes me very excited for our future.”
The win was not only BYU’s eighth straight, but marked Mark Pope’s 100th career victory as a head coach. Pope came to BYU after four seasons at Utah Valley, where he put together a 77-56 record.
The Cougars improved to 23-7 overall and 12-3 in West Coast Conference play.
The Zags (27-2, 13-1) saw their 19-game winning streak end and suffered their first conference loss. Gonzaga came in having won its last 40 regular-season conference games.
After being one of seven seniors celebrated prior to tipoff, TJ Haws started the game with something to prove. And he set the pace for the blink-and-you-miss action in the first half.
Haws, who finished with 16 points, was not only making offensive plays and scoring for the Cougars, but he was a force defensively — deflecting passes, drawing charges, blocking shots and getting rebounds.
“That’s a huge focus on our team,” Haws said of playing a defensive game. “At the beginning of the game, or before the game in the locker room, coach had defensive wins up on the board and somebody’s got to take charges if [Dalton Nixon] is out. And I thought I could get a couple tonight.”
However, Gonzaga recovered enough to go on an 8-0 run, and shortly after found its largest lead of the game, 14-8.
Then it was time for another Cougar to take the lead.
While Connor Harding missed his corner 3-point attempt, Gavin Baxter sprinted into the paint for the offensive rebound and put-back for his first basket of the season. The basket also helped cut BYU's deficit to two points.
Then the 3-pointers started to fall for BYU. After starting 0 for 6 from beyond the arc, Jake Toolson, who scored 17 points on the night, hit the Cougars’ first long-distance shot.
Gonzaga’s Filip Petrusev responded with a layup, but BYU had something better — a 6-0 run by Childs.
The Zags tied the game once more, 21-all, in the first half, but then the Cougars started slowly pulling away. By halftime, BYU saw its then-largest lead of the game, 46-38.
The second half went by just as fast as the first.
But after BYU got up to a 58-44 lead (the largest of the game), Gonzaga started playing catch-up and put together a 6-0 run.
Less than 10 minutes into the second half, three Cougars — Alex Barcello, Childs, Zac Seljaas and Kolby Lee — found themselves with three fouls each. And then the shots started to get sticky once more.
The Zags cut their deficit to four after a 7-0 run, during which BYU shot 0 for 5 from the field.
Childs broke the shooting skid, drawing a foul on a made layup and then getting sent to the charity stripe again to score five BYU points.
However, Childs then missed a pair of crucial free throw attempts after Gonzaga made back-to-back baskets, and the Zags seemed to pick up the necessary momentum for their comeback moment.
While BYU outrebounded Gonzaga 18-15 in the first half, the Cougars were then outrebounded 17-5 in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
But if Gonzaga thought it was regaining momentum, it was wrong. The Zags never got closer than two points from catching up with the Cougars.
BYU outscored its opponent 9-2 in the final minutes to seal the deal.
“There was so much frustration and things weren’t going right for us in a little bit of a stretch and our guys are in the process of learning to be more consistent about taking that straight to fight,” Pope said. “The longer you mess around in frustration, that’s when things get out of hand. And we’ve lived in frustration at times in the season and we talk about it all the time. And I thought they were extraordinary tonight.”