The last place these schools met was the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament -- a game in which BYU embarrassed Gonzaga with a 22 point victory behind 34 points from Jimmer Fredette. Gonzaga entered last night's game relishing the opportunity to exact revenge on the now Jimmerless Cougars, and BYU appeared especially vulnerable coming off unheard-of consecutive home losses -- the most recent being one of the ugliest nights the Marriott Center has seen in a long time.
However, a loss was not to be. BYU controlled nearly every aspect of the game and came away with another double-digit victory over a respectable opponent, preserving its slim hopes of an NCAA bid.
It began with the adjustment Dave Rose made by replacing Brock Zylstra in the starting lineup with Anson Winder. Like the rest of the team, Zylstra has struggled recently to hit from long range and has found it difficult to keep up with quicker opponents. Winder is not a better shooter than Zylstra, but he does bring defensive pressure and an open court threat.
Rose's move paid off: Winder played strong defense and contributed to a number of fast breaks that first broke the game open for BYU and then kept them ahead.
In fact, BYU's defensive effort largely drove this win as BYU's three point shooting slump continued with the starter's going 2-9 for three. Jerry Sloan, the former Utah Jazz head coach and NBA hall of famer, attended the game and said afterward, "It's fun to watch when they play hard." Consider that as high a compliment as these teams could receive.
Just one game after BYU fans were penalized by officials and received negative publicity - including a letter from BYU AD Tom Holmoe calling for better behavior - BYU students entered the Marriott Center to find white rally towels on their benches. Holmoe explained to fans before the game, "We trust you." BYU administrators seem to want to teach with love rather than punish, and that is remarkable to me.
Matt Carlino is responding to adversity by adding dimensions to his game, and his team is benefitting. Carlino continued against Gonzaga a trend that began toward the end of the St. Mary's game: he was relentless in his desire to get the the rim, and his aggression put Gonzaga in their heels more than once. Carlino has learned that, if BYU's outside shots aren't falling, someone needs to attack defenses off the dribble, and that someone is him.
BYU didn't win on defense and Carlino's slashing alone, however: in a game that was touted as a contest between two of the best frontcourts in the West, Noah Hartsock dominated Gonzaga's forwards, scoring 24 points and collecting 14 rebounds. Hartsock once again demonstrated what a complete player he is by scoring from both close and mid range and contributing in all phases of the game. That is not a bald spot on Hartsock's head; it's a special sneer for the opponents he leaves in his wake.