But I thought we played well, we played together, we competed hard. If we would have made a few more threes, it probably would have been a different story. —BYU coach Dave Rose
SPOKANE, Wash. — Gonzaga snapped its three-game losing streak against BYU at The Kennel Saturday night, but the Zags were still sweating it out at the end because the outcome was still in doubt until the final minute.
The No. 14 Zags halted their hex against the Cougars with a 68-60 victory before a sellout crowd of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
As the final second slipped off the clock, The Kennel student section chanted, “This is our house!”
It marked Gonzaga’s first home victory over BYU since 2014.
Despite shooting an awful 3 of 20 from 3-point range, the Cougars hung in there against the Zags, just two days after suffering a humiliating loss at Loyola Marymount.
“I was pretty confident that we’d come out and really compete. You never know how well you’re going to play,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “You get guys that might be a little frustrated. But I thought we played well, we played together, we competed hard. If we would have made a few more threes, it probably would have been a different story.”
BYU fell to 18-7 overall and 7-5 in West Coast Conference play while Gonzaga improved to 21-4 and 11-1.
Cougar guard TJ Haws, who finished with a game-high 22 points, hit a jumper that tied the score at 59 with 2:39 remaining. But 18 seconds later, Gonzaga freshman Zach Norvell Jr. answered with a 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, 62-59.
“They executed down the stretch. They made a couple of big plays. That 3 was huge,” said BYU’s Luke Worthington, who scored a career-high 16 points. “They’re a really good team, and they’re experienced. There’s a reason why they’re ranked (No. 14) in the nation. We’re bummed that it slipped away from us.”
Over the last 30 seconds, Haws was stripped of the ball while driving to the hoop, and moments later his pass to Jahshire Hardnett was stolen, ending the Cougars’ upset bid.
“We were really aggressive and got into tough, physical spots where their physicality overmatched us,” Rose said. “I thought maybe we could have gotten the benefit of a whistle or two that could have helped us through it. I thought they were really good when it counted. It’s a talented, athletic, physical team. We just needed to execute better in those spots. Maybe we got a little bit impatient. But these guys are competing. All they needed to do was make a couple of more plays and it would have been a different outcome.”
Rose changed up his starting lineup by replacing Zac Seljaas with Worthington and that proved to be a stroke of genius as Worthington hit 6 of 8 shots from the floor.
Rose wanted to see his team play with a more physical presence, and the Cougars accomplished that through most of the game thanks to Worthington and Yoeli Childs, who scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
“Luke was great. He does that every day in practice,” said Childs. “No one can guard him on the block. He’s the most frustrating guy to guard. He’s fundamentally sound and he’s going to make the right reads and finish inside. He showed that tonight. I’m very proud of the way he played.”
Meanwhile, BYU’s leading scorer, Elijah Bryant, was 1 of 11 from the floor and 0 of 8 from 3-point territory and finished with four points, his lowest-scoring game of the season.
“Gonzaga does a great job every year being focused on taking away your best scorers. It left a lot of opportunities for other guys. I thought Luke was really, really good tonight. Eli’s capable of making a lot of those plays. It wasn’t for a lack of effort.”
BYU trailed by as many as 12 in the first half and tied the game a couple of times in the second half.
Like the previous three games here, BYU believed it could pull the upset.
“We were down 8 or 10 or whatever but we were very confident that we could come out with the win,” Childs said. “That’s how this team is and I feel like that’s how we played the game tonight. We didn’t play timid. We had them on their heels for a while. They’re a very good team and they made tough shots at key moments. It’s a tough one.”
Gonzaga had three players in double figures — Rui Hachimura (15), Josh Perkins (14) and Johnathan Williams (13). Hachimura came off the bench and hit big shots for the Zags.
“They’re a very deep team. They have their rotations down pretty well where they sub and keep their legs fresh,“ Childs said. “They’re a top 25 team for a reason. They’re really talented one-through-five. They bring great guys off the bench. Hats off to them.”
BYU hosts Santa Clara Thursday.