I had the pleasure of being in attendance of BYU’s upset of Gonzaga.
First, let me say that Gonzaga fans are a class act. Growing up in Vegas, I went to my fair share of BYU-UNLV games and MWC tourneys, and those fans don’t have the best feelings towards BYU, to say the least.
I didn’t hear one obscene or derogatory comment and the comments shared were complimentary. Sports can often bring out the worst in people (especially after the excruciating loss Gonzaga just took), but the fans were all class at the end. Much respect.
Gonzaga’s student section is impressive. They are right on top of players, and they got to the game early to heckle BYU. A handful of students dressed up as Mormon missionaries (maybe someone should tell them that one of their players, Jesse Wade, is on a LDS mission in France).
BYU’s student section, the ROC, is louder due to its sheer mass, but Gonzaga’s student section is incredibly synchronized. They have a variety of pre-game cheers to get the crowd involved, and it was a sight to behold; they all were jumping in unison, creating a palpable buzz in the arena. Frankly, I was HYPED leading up to tip. I can only imagine how much BYU players fed off that energy (more on that later).
Here’s a 7+ minute pregame video, if you’re interested:
Gonzaga fans expected to win this (I mean, BYU fans expected Gonzaga to win, too) and the first 5 minutes didn’t change any of that. Gonzaga rolled to an 18-2 lead and the blowout looked like it was well on its way. Gonzaga had been winning WCC games by an average of 30 points, so it was business as usual for everyone in that gym. The crowd was deafening, and BYU players looked to be a little too juiced to start out.
BYU’s ensuing run was amazing. To be honest, I think I may have blacked out because I don’t remember much of BYU getting stops and hitting a barrage of 3-pointers. TJ Haws’ three-straight 3s left the crowd absolutely stunned, and the little pocket of BYU fans I was with going absolutely bonkers. I sent this tweet after this initial run:
BYU IS PLAYING SO WELL AND GONZAGA FANS ARE SO QUIET AND I CANT SHUT UP THIS IS GREAT— Robby McCombs (@rtmccombs) February 26, 2017
Gonzaga went into halftime with a 6-point lead, and the whole gym felt restless. A “oh no, not again feeling” was in the air with BYU being in contention to win for the third straight time at the Kennel.
A few things stand out from the second. First, TJ Haws had a turnover 4 seconds into the half, which is EXACTLY what BYU didn’t want to have happen; fortunately for the Cougars, Nigel Williams-Goss missed the ensuing layup.
Gonzaga got up by 12 with 13 minutes left and it appeared order had been restored. BYU put up a valiant effort, but Gonzaga had finally hit its stride. Gonzaga fans started to sit down again with their team looking to be back in control.
BYU then went on a mini 4-0 run, and the tide of the game really turned. Mark Few got a technical foul and the crowd was absolutely LIVID. Few is one of the nicest guys in college basketball, and Gonzaga fans were going absolutely crazy that their coach got a technical.
At this point, BYU seemed to flip a switch and really started to believe. The Gonzaga fans were restless and angry, and the players were starting to get flustered knowing that they couldn’t put BYU away.
Two more moments happened in the half that seemed to really turn the tide in BYU’s favor; first, Eric Mika’s incredible block on future NBA player Zach Collins:
The crowd was already upset at the refs due to Few’s technical, but they LOST it after this block. As you can see, Mika got all ball.
The next moment was Mika’s flagrant foul on Karnowski. This is honestly the moment that put Eric Mika as Gonzaga’s public enemy #1, and will forever have him hated by Gonzaga fans everywhere.
Mika had spent time before and after this heckling the student section, and now he took down Gonzaga’s giant. Mika had already been abusing Karnowski with his post moves and 18-20 footers, now he had physically taken down the beloved Gonzaga senior. Fans lost their minds (I don’t blame them), and the refs reviewed the play and assessed Mika a flagrant foul.
Final Five Minutes
BYU was the more composed team down the stretch. BYU took down a veteran-laden team on its home court. BYU was not scared one bit of the raucous environment, and went blow for blow with the top-ranked team in the country.
BYU coaches won the game in the final minutes; they took the air out the ball and ran the shot clock down. BYU is the 4th-fastest paced team in the country, so this is probably the last thing Gonzaga would expect. BYU put the game in the hands of Haws, Bryant and Mika, and they delivered. They went one-on-one with Gonzaga’s players, and the Zags couldn’t stop them.
And to think, CORBIN KAUFUSI was the player that put the game away. Corbin played an absolutely stellar 11 minutes, and his putback to put BYU up 75-71 was the nail in the coffin.
BYU could’ve wilted under pressure, but instead closed the game on a 10-0 to stun the Bulldogs and ruin their perfect season.
This was one of the best sporting events I have ever been to. Gonzaga fans are incredible; they pack 6,000 into their gym, and they are LOUD.
BYU actually seemed to feed off the crowd, though. I talked to one of the BYU players after the game, and he said the exact same thing. He said the crowed fueled BYU, and it was evident. There were multiple occasions where Haws, Emery, and Mika would heckle the student section, both verbally and non-verbally. BYU started to become a villain team last year when Nick Emery took down Utah’s Brandon Taylor, and this game cemented it.
BYU fans will love the attitude; confident, not backing down, WANTING to play in a tough environment where they are hated. Opponents will hate BYU; brash, arrogant, and dirty. Historically, that’s about on par for BYU. They are a team opposing fans love to hate, and nothing is changing with this group of guys.
Finally, BYU was fed up with Gonzaga thinking they had 30-0 locked up. Gonzaga’s own snapchat filter had already proclaimed 30-0 before the game even began:
The Spokane newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, also had 7,000 newspapers printed out proclaiming 30-0 to aid in the postgame celebration — something players said fueled them as well.
This season may not have gone as planned, but BYU’s historic win signals a special time ahead for BYU hoops. Love them or hate them, BYU is a team that wants play in these types of games; time will tell if they can get up for the rest of the games too and make this next couple years some of the best in program history.