PROVO — With its NCAA Tournament at-large hopes hanging by a thread of a rally towel, BYU came out against No. 24 Gonzaga Thursday night like a desperate team looking to rebound from last Saturday's humbling loss to Saint Mary's and salvage its season.
The Cougars controlled the tempo, controlled the game, and knocked off the Bulldogs, 83-73, before a crowd of 19,257 at the Marriott Center.
"It's a big win for our team, for our guys," said coach Dave Rose. "They played with real urgency and great effort. Our effort was extreme all night. That was our focus."
Though BYU continued to struggle from 3-point territory (3-of-12), it did manage to get its swagger back.
The Cougars improved to 19-6 overall and 7-3 in the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs dropped to 17-4 and 7-2.
It marked BYU's second consecutive victory over Gonzaga, including last year's NCAA Tournament win. The Cougars also halted a two-game homecourt losing streak. They did it by playing with passion and energy, much more than they displayed in the setback to the Gaels last weekend.
"The coaches got our minds ready for this game," said forward Noah Hartsock.. "We were focused and dialed in tonight."
Hartsock finished with a game-high 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting after hitting just 3-of-10 shots in the first half.
Guard Matt Carlino scored 18 points, forward Brandon Davies chipped in 15, and guard Anson Winder, starting his first game since Dec. 10 at Utah, had 10 points, five assists, three steals and four rebounds. Winder was a catalyst in the first half, recording back-to-back steals early in the game that resulted in fast break layups.
Winder finished the first half with a layup at the buzzer that lifted the Cougars to a 14-point lead at intermission.
"He played really well," Carlino said of Winder. "He's really good defensively. He's got active hands."
At halftime, Winder had seven points, three steals and three steals as BYU ended the half on a 25-9 run.
Gonzaga hit just 3 of 20 shots in the final 15 minutes of the first half and the Cougars had 12 first-half steals and forced 15 turnovers.
"Our game plan was to attack them defensively," Rose said.
The Cougars sprinted to a 7-2 lead thanks to the back-to-back steals by Winder. The Bulldogs battled back to take a 10-7 lead.
A jumper by Hartsock put BYU up, 17-15, an advantage the Cougars didn't relinquish the rest of the game.
Freshman guard Damarcus Harrison hit the Cougars' first 3-pointer of the night, with 2:25 remaining in the first half, to give BYU a 34-22 advantage.
"We pushed the pace," Carlino said. "We wore them out. We played at our pace for 40 mintues. It was a great team effort."
Hartsock said it was important to get off to a great start against the Bulldogs, unlike what happened against Saint Mary's.
"We didn't want to fall into that trap again," Hartsock said.
Early in the second half, BYU built on its lead, enjoying a 17-point advantage.
However, Gonzaga seized the momentum, cutting the deficit to 11 points with less than 12 minutes remaining. But the Cougars responded with eight straight points to retake control of the game.
A 3-pointer by Bulldog guard David Stockton with a little more than one minute left pulled Gonzaga to within nine, 79-70. But Carlino answered with a driving layup.
The Bulldogs shot just 41 percent for the game, including 3-of-19 from 3-point territory. BYU shot 54 percent in the second half.
The Cougars visit Portland Saturday (8 p.m., MST, BYUtv).
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