I thought that we kind of competed with them in stretches, but they had several guys step up and make plays. That’s what championship teams do. —BYU assistant coach Tim LaComb
PROVO — Going into the regular-season finale, No. 6 Gonzaga had plenty to play for against BYU.
“We came out with the mindset that we didn’t want to share the conference title with St. Mary’s, so we just wanted to come out here and give it all we had,” said Zag forward Johnathan Williams. “We did not want to share that conference title. We just made sure we came out fiery, and we made sure we was clicking on all cylinders on defense and offense.”
Gonzaga accomplished that in resounding fashion Saturday before a sellout crowd of 18,987 at the Marriott Center with a 79-65 victory over the Cougars, and it celebrated another outright West Coast Conference championship.
The Zags have won 17 of the last 18 WCC championships, and 15 of those have been outright titles.
“First of all, congratulations to Gonzaga for winning the championship and coming in here and beating us,” said BYU assistant coach Tim LaComb. “I thought that we kind of competed with them in stretches, but they had several guys step up and make plays. That’s what championship teams do.”
BYU will be the No. 3 seed in next week’s West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The Cougars will face No. 6 San Diego in the tournament quarterfinals Saturday at 2 p.m. MST.
Gonzaga claimed the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
BYU trailed the Zags by five points at halftime, 43-38, then made just 2 of its first 13 shots in the second half as the Bulldogs pulled away.
Gonzaga led by as many as 21 points midway through the second half.
“They hit shots and we couldn’t. That’s it, plain and simple,” said BYU guard Elijah Bryant, who finished with 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting. “We had open shots. They just weren’t going down.”
On the night, Gonzaga shot 55 percent compared to 39 percent for the Cougars.
The Zags made a statement early, seizing a 14-point lead midway through the first half, 26-12, and it appeared the game might be over by halftime.
Instead, the Cougars battled back with an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to six. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Bryant pulled BYU to within 38-36.
With about one minute left in the half, another Bryant 3 rimmed out, and it would have given the Cougars the lead. Meanwhile, Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins drilled a 3-pointer with six seconds remaining in the half.
“The momentum was really good right there. Obviously there was a lot more basketball to play,” said LaComb, speaking to the media in place of head coach Dave Rose, who left after the game due to an illness. “Being down in a hole and getting back and that thing rattles out and they get the last possession and Perkins buries a tough shot. It was the momentum of that moment. We could have fed off that a little better. We were happy with moments.
"In the first half, it could have gotten away from us, and we showed some character and cut that thing back. Eli’s ball rattled around, and there was a good chance we could have been up at the half.”
Whatever positive vibes BYU was enjoying at the end of the first half seemed to dissipate at intermission.
“It’s kind of crazy sometimes. You really look forward to the half, and then other times the half comes at a tough time,” LaComb said. “We got that thing down to where I wish we could have kept playing right there. We came out a little bit tentative. Then they executed really well and made some tough plays.”
Gonzaga had six players score in double figures besides Williams. Zach Norvell Jr. had 15, Josh Perkins added 14, Silas Melson and Rui Hachimura chipped in 12 apiece and Killian Tillie contributed 10.
“Really a complete game for us, especially the way we played defense in the second half,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
“They’ve got great players. To their credit, they tend to make the right play,” LaComb said of the Zags. “That’s really impressive, that many guys playing together. It’s kind of what you hope for. They did a great job of it. When it was a guy’s opportunity, he took it. I thought Hachimura and Williams were kind of game-changers down in the block tonight. They did a really good job and they hit timely 3s, too. It’s hard to guard that.”
Yoeli Childs led BYU with 19 points and Jahshire Hardnett had 11.
In the second half, Bryant was 0 of 5 from the field and the Cougars were 7 of 26.
“That’s a really, really good offensive team,” Few said. “Those top three are a handful. They keep (an opposing) head coach up at night. To hold them to seven field goals in the second half is about as good as you can possibly hope for.”