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BYU men’s basketball fights but ultimately falls to No. 2 Gonzaga for ‘humbling’ first conference loss

The Cougars made 12 3-pointers, but had no answers for Gonzaga’s red-hot offense in 110-84 loss.

BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) drives the ball as guard Te'Jon Lucas (3) sets a screen against Gonzaga guard Rasir Bolton (45) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

BYU started Thursday’s game by giving the Gonzaga Bulldogs a taste of their own medicine.

In one minute and six seconds, the Cougars scored the game’s first seven points. Fousseyni Traore made a putback layup. Caleb Lohner made a corner 3-pointer. Alex Barcello made a layup in transition.

But it didn’t take long to remember just how difficult it is to beat No. 2 Gonzaga.

BYU lost 110-84 to the Bulldogs despite playing the type of game that would beat many other opponents. But the Gonzaga was simply too fast, too efficient, too dynamic.

“We just got our a-- kicked,” Lohner said on BYU Radio after the game. “I don’t think there’s any way around it.”

Gonzaga forward Drew Timme (2) shoots over BYU forward Caleb Lohner (33) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. Gonzaga won 110-84. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

The Cougars spent practices leading up to Saturday’s game putting a hyper focus on transition defense. They had assistant coaches in the scout team and even justified accidentally playing 6-of-5. They knew what they were up against in Gonzaga, and said they would use the game as a benchmark for the current state of their team.

But BYU gave up too many points to the one team you’re not supposed to give up too many points to.

“We just didn’t have answers, especially on the defensive end,” coach Mark Pope said on BYU Radio. “We tried a lot of different things. Our guys worked really hard. But we were not prepared to slow them down tonight.”

One of the players BYU wasn’t prepared for was Julian Strawther, a sophomore who didn’t start a game last year and averaged only 3.4 points in 7.6 points. But he scored 20 points against the Cougars on 7-of-10 shooting and 3 of 5 from the 3-point line.

“He killed us tonight,” Pope said. “He killed us in the beginning of this game in a way that we were hoping would not happen.”

Gonzaga guard Andrew Nembhard (3) dunks in front of BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. Gonzaga won 110-84. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

The Bulldogs shot nearly 70% from the field and 52% from the 3-point line. They had 28 assists on 43 field goals. Three of their starters scored at least 20 points.

The Cougars, though, played one of their best games of the season from an offensive standpoint. They shot 45% from the 3-point line and made 13 of them.

Barcello led the Cougars with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting, one of his most efficient performances in recent memory. Lohner added 17 points and made two 3-pointers, while Te’Jon Lucas scored 10 points and had four assists.

Drew Timme put a game-high 30 points for Gonzaga and made 13 of 14 shots. Andrew Nembhard had 22 points and 12 assists.

BYU head coach Mark Pope reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

There was one second-half sequence that was indicative of the type of team Gonzaga is. Barcello drove the lane and got his shot blocked by Chet Holmgren, who saved the ball from going out of bounds but almost threw it away. Rasir Bolton picked saved the ball and passed ahead to Strawther, who acrobatically made an up-and-under layup in transition.

“They were really dialed in tonight,” Pope said.

The Bulldogs reached the century mark with 6:48 remaining in the game, a feat of which Pope said he has never been a part in his career. But he vowed that BYU is the type of team that bounces back from tough losses and that his team will continue to improve.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Pope said. “It’s just super, super humbling. If we want to become the team that at we want to become, it gives us a very clear picture of a dozen or so things that we need to address where we have to get way better. So we’ll work hard to do that.”

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