In the conference opener for both teams, the BYU Cougars and Gonzaga Bulldogs faced off in the Marriott Center in what many hope will be a preview of the WCC Conference Tournament Finals. The Bulldogs came into the game ranked 8th in the country with their only loss being to the 3rd ranked Arizona Wildcats in overtime, and the Cougars came in off an overtime win over UMass.
In possibly the least inspired 10 minutes of ball that Cougars have played this year, the Bulldogs scored early and built a quick lead. Kyle Wiltjer scored six of Gonzaga's nine points as BYU sluggishly started the game. Things quickly got out of hand as BYU started 1-11 from the field and managed six free throws to one bucket. Using a 12-0 advantage in the paint, the Bulldogs took a 16-4 lead before the Cougars could add a few more free-throws and their second bucket of the game to pull within 18-10. The crowd began to get loud and it appeared the Cougars had turned the corner after a Skyler Halford three but turnovers and missed layups again haunted the Cougars. Quickly the Zags built a 16 point lead at 31-15, on the back of an 11-2 run. BYU would finally find their rythme as the Cougars went on a 9-0 run that was started with a Jake Toolson three point shot.
The Cougars had a chance to pull within five but an offensive foul on Frank Bartley IV turned into a Gonzaga bucket and a nine point lead. Bartley would come back down the court and hit a three pointer to continue the run that ended 16-4, and BYU within four at 35-31. The Cougars energy continued to pick up as a three from Chase Fischer, a follow up by Kyle Collinsworth on a Winder missed layup, and a follow up dunk by Corbin Kaufusi pulled the Cougars within one at 41-40 and only 37 seconds left in the half. After a basket interference call on Kaufusi gave Gonzaga the 43-40 lead, and just over three seconds left, Collinsworth took the ball and nailed a three pointer to send the teams into the locker room locked at 43. The Cougars ended on a 28-12 run and hit 11 of their last 15 shots.
BYU came out looking to score and take their first lead of the game but missed their first shot. After a missed shot by the Bulldogs, Haws faked a three and drew the third foul on Gary Bell Jr. and went to the line. After making all three shots the Cougars had their first lead of the game, 46-43, with 19:21 left in the game. Haws would score the Cougars first five points of the half as both teams hustled and fought for position and the ball. The Bulldogs wouldn't let the Cougars keep the lead for long as they tied the game back up at 49, but a Kaufusi dunk gave it right back to the Cougars. Two Winder free throws, and a third Kevin Pangos foul, gave BYU their largest lead of the game at 53-49. After a Fischer three that went around the rim three times before popping out, the Cougars defense held and created a Collinsworth fast break for the bucket and a free throw for a 55-49 lead, pending the free throw, at the under 16 minute timeout. A missed free throw and a Bulldogs three ended the run and Pangos hit his second straight three to pull Gonzaga within two at 57-55.
Pangos wasn't ready to let the Bulldogs give up and scored eight straight points for Gonzaga as they tied the game at 57. After a foul on a follow up shot, Fischer would hit two free throws giving BYU the temporary lead back before Bell would hit a three for the Bulldogs for their first lead of the half. Three straight three point misses for the Cougars led to a Gonzaga 63-61 lead with over ten minutes in the game, but the pace was favorable for the Cougars. The Cougars three point shooting took a hit in the second half as they missed their first nine three point shots. With the shooting woes continuing the Bulldogs increased their lead to three at 67-64. BYU was finally forced to take a time out with seven minutes in the game as Pangos again hit a three and the Zags built a five point lead at 72-67. The Cougars three point drought was finally ended with six minutes to play as Halford hit one from the corner to bring the Cougars back to within five. Halford would once again hit a three, this time on a set play out of the time out, to pull the Cougars within four at 77-73.
Wiltjer and Pangos once again showed why they are leading the 8th ranked team in the country as they took over the game when it mattered most, and kept the rest of the team calm in the face of the hostile crowd. The Bulldogs would once again build up a seven point lead as the Cougars couldn't keep hold of the ball and gave Gonzaga second chance opportunities. The Cougars weren't quite done yet as they used free throws to pull within three at 80-77 with under two minutes to play. Again turnovers doomed the Cougars as two straight possessions ended up in the hands of the Bulldogs, and no points for the Cougars. The Cougars gave a valiant effort in the end but once again the Bulldogs were able to muzzle the Cougars. Kyle Wiltjer would lead all scorers with 24 but Kevin Pangos added 21. Haws and Winder would lead the Cougars with 17 each and Collinsworth would add another triple double as he scored 13, dished out 10 assists and pulled down 11 rebounds in the 87-80 loss.
BYU will stay home to face the Portland Pilots on Monday at 7 pm MST on BYUtv.