Despite tons of fight, an ugly display of shooting was too much for BYU to overcome on Thursday night, as Gonzaga downed the Cougars 74-63 in Spokane. An abundance of free-throw attempts helped Gonzaga overcome BYU's rebounding advantage and secure no less than second place in the West Coast Conference -- which means a double-bye into the conference tournament semifinals for the Zags.
It was a weird night statistically on both sides. BYU put up 44 field goal attempts in the first half, but made only 11. At the end of the game, BYU had missed more field goals (54) than Gonzaga even attempted (41), and the Bulldogs shot more free throws (44) than field goals.
If there is one thing that is relentless in BYU's game, it is three-point shooting. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Cougars maintain the belief that the slump will end. Perhaps it will, but a 6-28 performance from behind the arc was killer.
To BYU's credit, it was without all-conference lock Noah Hartsock, who played just seven minutes before being deemed either unable to play due to injury, or at least ineffective because of injury. BYU searched for offensive answers, and down the stretch when it was needed most, the Cougars did find one. His name was Brandon Davies.
Down 53-39 with 7:30 left, Davies would score 10 of BYU's next 13 points. The other three came on a Craig Cusick three (who was oddly benched for Brock Zylstra--scorless for the night--immediately after). A Davies fade-away jumper with 3:57 left cut the deficit to just seven (59-52) with 3:57 left. Davies was stepping up and carrying BYU down the stretch.
Then he didn't touch the ball for two full minutes.
When he did get the ball again, the Cougars were down 11 with two minutes to play. The hot hand brought it within seven, and the youth of the guards didn't notice.
Davies would finish with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while Matt Carlino chipped in 18 points. Charles Abouo and Nate Austin each added 10 rebounds of their own. While shots weren't falling, much credit should be given to Davies, Carlino, Austin, and Abouo, who all had long stretches (or for Davies, the whole game) where their sheer effort kept BYU in it.
Elias Harris led all Gonzaga scorers with 19, including an emphatic one-handed emasculation of a dunk on an alley-oop from Kevin Pangos. The dunk came with 2:10 left and put Gonzaga up 63-52, a clear statement from Harris that BYU's night was over. Harris also corralled 16 rebounds, and Pangos added 18 points.
One positive from the night is that for all the frustration, the easiest thing a team can fix, in my opinion, is bad shooting. Although three pointers may be a different story, I'd be surprised if BYU made only 24 shots on 78 attempts ever again. The Cougars missed a lot of easy looks at the rim early. BYU outworked Gonzaga on the boards, pulling down 19 (nineteen!) offensive rebounds. My math says if BYU shot 39% (equal to Gonzaga) instead of 30%, despite Gonzaga's 44 free-throw attempts, BYU wins by one. Obviously it wouldn't be that clear cut, but despite such an atrocious game, an 11-point loss in The Kennel seems ... okay?
The result does mean that BYU is destined for the WCC-tournament three seed as Loyola Marymount lost to San Diego tonight (barring an abomination at home against Portland) and that Gonzaga has the two-seed locked down (and waits to see if San Francisco can give them a shot at winning the conference by beating Saint Mary's).