PROVO — A week ago, after falling at lowly Pacific, BYU’s NCAA tournament at-large hopes were on the verge of flat-lining.
But those hopes have been revived in a big way.
The Cougars earned a dramatic 73-65 victory over No. 25 Gonzaga Thursday night before a crowd of 19,136 at the Marriott Center.
"We were fortunate to make a few more plays tonight," said coach Dave Rose. "It’s a big win, on the heels of another big win (at Saint Mary's last Saturday). It’s a good spot to be in right now.”
It was BYU’s first victory over a ranked team this season in five chances, and the Cougars snapped a five-game losing streak to the Bulldogs. It marked just the second loss for Gonzaga in conference play in two years.
“The feeling is surreal," guard Anson Winder said of finally beating the Bulldogs. "You get the top-ranked team (in the conference) coming into your place and the crowd’s going crazy. We banded together and said, ‘We have nothing to lose.’ We go out and fight like that. The feeling is unreal.”
BYU improved to 19-10 overall and 11-5 in the West Coast Conference, while Gonzaga fell to 24-5 and 13-2.
In new roles, Winder and Eric Mika turned in impressive performances for the Cougars.
Rose shuffled his starting lineup, with Winder starting in place of Skyler Halford and Josh Sharp starting in place of Mika.
The move paid off for BYU.
Winder finished with a game-high 17 points, including 10 of 10 from the free-throw line, and Mika had 13 points and eight rebounds. Defensively, he helped limit Gonzaga star Kevin Pangos to 3 of 9 shooting and 13 points. Pangos hit six 3's and scored 24 points in last month's 15-point win in Spokane.
Meanwhile, Matt Carlino collected 15 points, including seven of the Cougars’ final nine points, and six assists. Tyler Haws had 12 points.
"Down the stretch, BYU did a good job of amping it up on the glass and really hurt us," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. "Definitely in that second half on the glass and getting to the free-throw line, I thought was pretty much the difference in the game."
BYU held Gonzaga to 4 of 18 shooting from 3-point territory. Gary Bell, Jr. was 3 of 11 from the floor, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
“The emphasis in practice was to guard the 3-point line," Winder said. "That’s how they beat us at their place, they got off a lot of threes.”
“I thought we did a way better job this time around staying with shooters," Rose said. "They really like to penetrate, then bring shooters back behind the penetration. The penetration is basically to try to get you sucked in. I thought our guards did a better job of staying out to shooters.”
"It hurt," Few said of his team's outside shooting woes. "Obviously they were dialed in. They were trying to chase Kevin (Pangos) and Gary (Bell) a little bit, but we still had some pretty good looks out there. Gary had a lot of good looks. We just didn’t knock them down. They did a good job of locating Kevin and staying in tune with him wherever he was and the other guys just missed them."
BYU forced 16 turnovers and scored 13 points off those turnovers. The Cougars outrebounded the Bulldogs, 41-32.
Rose said he first starting thinking about tinkering with his starting lineup after last Saturday's win at Saint Mary's.
"Anson had been playing really well and gave us a huge lift when we started him in the second half (at Saint Mary's)," Rose said. "Defensively, he’s stood out in practice. We thought the matchup of he and Pangos would be good to start the game.”
Keeping Mika on the bench at the start of the game was Rose's way of preventing the freshman from getting into early foul trouble.
“I didn’t really mind it. I kind of liked it," Mika said of coming off the bench. "It was nice to see how the game was going, how the flow was for a minute or two then be able to go. The big guys on the other team were a little bit tired because of the pace of the game. I think it helped my start. It definitely gave me an advantage ... I didn’t realize I only played 24 minutes. It felt like I played 40 minutes.”
Mika also played well against Gonzaga forward Sam Dower, who played just 20 minutes due to foul trouble. Dower had 14 points.
With the score tied at halftime, 39-39, BYU opened the second half by scoring the first six points on a Haws jumper and back-to-back putbacks by Nate Austin and Kyle Collinsworth. It was 45-39 for the Cougars with 16:42 remaining in the game.
The two teams traded baskets over the next several minutes, with Winder giving BYU an offensive boost. He scored eight points during a stretch that helped the Cougars hold on to the lead, 56-52.
BYU led 58-54 with 8:04 remaining when Dower went to the bench with his fourth foul. Carlino’s steal and layup put the Cougars up, 60-54.
BYU maintained its lead, and when Carlino hit an off-balanced jumper with the shot clock winding down, the Cougars grabbed a 66-60 advantage with 2:40 left.
Carlino scored seven consecutive points for BYU to keep Gonzaga at bay. The Bulldogs' Kevin Pangos nailed a 3-pointer with 53.8 seconds left, but Carlino and Winder each buried two free throws to seal the victory.
BYU got off to a fast start, going up 9-3 in the opening minutes of the game. But Gonzaga, thanks to the inside one-two punch of Dower and Przemek Karnowski, cut the deficit to 9-7, and eventually took a 13-11 lead.
Mika entered the game at the 17:06 mark and almost immediately hit two free throws. Carlino also came off the bench and made a big impact, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in the first half.
The Cougars eventually led by as many as 10, even though Haws didn’t score his first points until more than nine minutes into the game. Pangos’ first point came on a free throw at the 6:36 mark of the first half.
BYU hit eight of its first 12 shots, while the ‘Zags were 0 of 6 from 3-point range before Gary Bell Jr. drilled one from distance with eight minutes left in the half.
Mika’s aggressiveness helped power BYU, and after his putback with 5:30 left in the half, the Cougars led, 34-24.
But Gonzaga not only closed BYU's advantage, it took the lead with 57.8 seconds left in the half after an and-one by Ryan Edwards, 37-36. Edward scored again to give the Bulldogs a three-point edge before Haws drilled a 3-point runner just before the halftime buzzer to tie the score at 39-all.
“It was really big for all of us," Rose said of Haws' 3-pointer. "We had gone a long stretch where we hadn’t scored. We were debating whether to put him in or keeping out because he had two fouls. We just felt like we needed more offensive firepower. That shot gave us a big lift going into halftime.”
BYU hosts Portland Saturday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) in the Cougars’ home finale.
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