LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga ended BYU’s Cinderella dreams to get into the NCAA Tournament in quick fashion Tuesday night at the West Coast Conference championship in the Orleans Arena.
Gonzaga 74, BYU 54.
The Cougars entered the game with momentum and belief.
That all came crashing down 26 minutes after tipoff when No. 6 ranked Gonzaga exploded for a 20-2 run to lead BYU 47-29 with just over four minutes into the second half. Three minutes later, the Zags had outscored BYU 36 to 4 and led 63-31.
“This is our house. This is our house. This is our house,” shouted the Gonzaga faithful whose numbers were thick and many.
The No. 1 seed Zags raked the No. 3 Cougars so decisively in that stretch it left BYU stunned, hunting for composure.
Gonzaga merely loosed its dogs of war. BYU was no match.
A young team with no seniors, given a 5.6 percent chance to win it all, BYU took it, humbled to the core. The Cougars finish 24-10. Gonzaga improved to 30-4.
BYU went up against one of the country’s most successful coaches, Mark Few. He’s a guy earning $1.9 million a year. That’s more than in-state and Pac-12 coaches at the University of Washington, Mike Hopkins, or Washington State’s Ernie Kent.
Few gets players.
Gonzaga is an elite collegiate national powerhouse whose starters are stars. His bench is like dipping for gold chips out of a chest. The Zags have no football program. Hoops is Gonzaga's bloodline, its gem. The WCC tournament in Las Vegas is Gonzaga’s bowl game, attested to by the dominating number of Zag faithful that cram the arena.
BYU, on the other hand, took a step forward by making the finals.
Gonzaga, fighting a political battle with the WCC to get more of a piece of the pie it rightfully has earned by carrying the league and earning annual NCAA Tournament credits — six of them last year for making the national championship — could very well have played its last event here in the WCC.
Tuesday’s championship was just a re-coronation of the league’s most dominating franchise.
It looked promising for most of the first half. Yoeli Childs began where he left off in a career-high 33-point performance against Saint Mary’s in the semifinals. Childs converted all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half and equaled his season high of 18 points by halftime.
Trouble is, other Cougars could not get untracked against the taller, quicker, longer Gonzaga defenders, and Childs began having trouble scoring inside against a Zag defense designed to move him away from the basket and cut off drive routes by Elijah Bryant and TJ Haws.
The Cougars could not contain Killian Tille, playing as hot as anyone in the country from inside and out.
The Zags broke loose from a tie game and outscored the Cougars 11-2 to end the first half with a 38-29 lead, the last bucket a last-second dash by Josh Perkins with under six seconds left, and no Cougar could stop his dribble-drive to the hoop.
This wasn’t the WCC ending that BYU’s squad expected. While many of BYU's supporters gave them no chance to advance past Saint Mary’s, the Cougars had their best game of the season against the Gaels.
This is a Dave Rose team that overcame missing pieces, injuries, transfers and the loss of Nick Emery and Eric Mika to make it to the finals in Las Vegas. It was a season in which the Cougars dispatched every in-state team in Utah and earned bragging rights as the Beehive State’s best.
Childs made himself some future money here in Las Vegas. His look was solid and he rose up to the occasion, scoring 20 and displaying a consistent 3-point shot.
BYU’s little run in the WCC postseason event was good for 2½ games. Until the Zags made BYU look like San Francisco.
The Cougars did enough work here to earn a berth in the NIT as perhaps a five, six or seven seed.
That, in a nutshell, is how the Cougars left Vegas — dishing some highlights until rolling snake eyes with the dice on hardwoods owned by the Zags.