The value of BYU men’s basketball losing a close game to Gonzaga

Plus, other observations from the weekend in the BYU hoops world.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars guard Dallin Hall (30) drives on Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Rasir Bolton (45) as BYU hosts Gonzaga, NCAA basketball in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023.

Provo • Ah, the value of experience.

BYU held a 10-point lead with just over five minutes left against Gonzaga on Thursday. The Cougars were shooting lights out from the 3-point line and getting timely stops. The upset was there for the taking.

Then Gonzaga, well, Gonzaga’d. There was never a sense of panic from the Bulldogs. No rushed shots. No silly fouls. They started to chip away until Julian Strawther’s game-winning 3-pointer.

Meanwhile, the Cougars missed shots, turned the ball over, gave up costly offensive rebounds and didn’t defend well enough in those final five minutes. It was indicative of a Cougars team that has an experience disadvantage when playing against some of the top teams in the West Coast Conference.

But there’s value in losing a close game to Gonzaga. If the Cougars had lost by 25, there might be the opportunity to put that game under a microscope in the same way. BYU did a lot of things well Thursday, and although coach Mark Pope had plenty of things to harp on, it still had a very good chance of winning until things fell apart down the stretch.

Fast-forward to Saturday night against Pepperdine, and the Cougars showed some of what Gonzaga did against them.

Of course, Pepperdine is no Gonzaga. But the Cougars answered every run the Waves put on them. Even though Jaxson Robinson had one of his worst shooting nights in recent memory, he made a couple of big shots down the stretch. And Richie Saunders, a true freshman, made two clutch 3-pointers to keep Pepperdine at bay in the closing minutes.

That’s what good teams do. They don’t panic, they have short memories, they find a way to make plays. And maybe seeing Gonzaga do it against them helped these young Cougars understand what it means to do it at an elite level.

“You always want to learn from every game, every loss, every win,” Spencer Johnson said. “That’s what great teams do, that’s what great players do. You learn from it and you take it to the next one.”

KenPom/NET Ranking


KenPom: 78.

NET: 91.


NET: 106.

Most Eye-Popping Stat

24 rebounds. No, this is not a repeat of last week’s note. Lauren Gustin again brought down 24 rebounds, this time against Loyola Marymount in a blowout win. And again, she outrebounded the entire team (LMU had 22).

That was Gustin’s sixth game of the season in which she has recorded at least 20 rebounds. Most post players never get 20 rebounds in a game their entire career. What Gustin is doing is nothing short of special, regardless of what anyone says about how weak the WCC women’s teams are.

Most Telling Quote

“Basically after Thursday’s game, there were a lot of people that were writing us off. But, you know, as my best friend Geno Smith says: ‘We ain’t write back, though.’” —Tanner Hayhurst, after the BYU men’s team beat Pepperdine on Saturday.

Hayhurst lifted this from a postgame interview Seattle Seahawks quarterback Smith gave some time ago. He was asked by the sideline reporter about people writing him off, and his answer was, “They wrote me off, I ain’t write back, though.’”

It took me a while (and a text to a friend) to understand what “I ain’t write back” means in context. Nevertheless, it’s a cute — and apparently effective — way to say, “I’ll just be over here ignoring the haters and doing what I do.” And that’s what BYU did after that crushing loss to Gonzaga.

Zooming out a bit, though, Hayhurst, who is redshirting this sesaon, told that story because Pope wanted to tell the world that the Cougars are 3-0 when Hayhurst gives a pregame speech. The Smith quote was motivational fodder for the Pepperdine game.

The other two times Hayhurst lit a pregame spark under the Cougars were against San Diego and Idaho State, he said.

Schedule Lookahead


Thursday at Santa Clara

Saturday at San Francisco

The game against Santa Clara will be tough. BYU is not favored by KenPom to win either of those two games, despite San Francisco’s woeful 1-5 conference record.


Thursday vs. San Francisco

Saturday vs. Santa Clara