They were a handful for us. —BYU coach Dave Rose on Gonzaga
LAS VEGAS — Late in the first half Tuesday night at Orleans Arena, BYU was hanging tough with powerful Gonzaga, seeking to spring an improbable upset.
But, as it turned out, that was only a mirage.
Over the next 11 minutes, the Zags buried the Cougars with a decisive 36-4 run and what had been a tightly contested contest quickly turned into a rout.
Sixth-ranked Gonzaga clinched the WCC tournament championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season with a 74-54 thumping of BYU before a crowd of 8,030.
“Awesome performance by my guys. It’s probably as good a run as I’ve been a part of,” said Zags coach Mark Few. “Our defense led to great offense. It was a thing of beauty to see.”
For the Cougars (24-10), it was a case of too many empty possessions, too many missed shots, not enough depth.
And BYU was powerless to stop the overwhelming depth and balance of Gonzaga (30-4), which was led by Killian Tillie’s 22 points and six rebounds. Zach Norvell finished with 17 points, while Josh Perkins had 11. Johnathan Williams posted 10 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
“They were a handful for us,” said BYU coach Dave Rose.
Tillie earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honors after shooting 78 percent from the field, drilling 13 of 14 3-pointers and averaging 24 points in three games of the tournament.
“They’re a great team and well-coached,” said Cougar guard Elijah Bryant, who scored 11 points. “They hit a lot of shots during that run.”
Early on, the Cougars seemed poised to give the Bulldogs a battle. BYU opened the game with a 5-0 lead and led 21-20 with 6:32 left in the first half.
Yoeli Childs, who finished with a team-high 20 points and eight rebounds for BYU, drilled a 3-pointer with 3:55 left in the second half to tie the score at 27.
That was as close as the Cougars would get the rest of the night.
Gonzaga closed the half on an 11-2 run to take a 38-29 lead into the locker room at intermission.
That was part of the Zags’ jaw-dropping 36-4 run that started with 2:42 left in the first half and continued until the 12:04 mark of the second half — a span of about 11 minutes of play. At that point, the Bulldogs owned a 32-point lead, 63-31.
“We knew we were going to get BYU’s best shot,” Few said. “It was a defensive battle and then these guys turned it up a couple of notches.”
BYU reached the WCC tournament championship game after defeating No. 20 Saint Mary’s Monday night in the semifinals. The Cougars shot 61 percent in that game. But against the Zags, they shot just 35 percent.
Asked if fatigue was a factor Tuesday night, Bryant said, “There aren’t any excuses for a loss.”
BYU opened the second half with a turnover and a pair of ill-advised shots, and the Cougars soon found themselves down by 13 points, 42-29.
BYU made 1 of its first 14 shots in the second half while Gonzaga hit 8 of its first 12, including four 3-pointers.
“The first 17-18 minutes it was a battle, back-and-forth,” said Cougar forward Payton Dastrup, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half. “They seemed to flip a switch and were able to create some havoc.”
Down 32, BYU showed signs of life late in the second half, whittling the deficit after outscoring the Zags 21-9 over a five-minute stretch.
“Our guys showed who they are and hung in there and made a run,” Rose said.
The Cougars are likely going to the National Invitational Tournament for the third consecutive season. BYU will find out its postseason fate Sunday.
The Zags, meanwhile, are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the 21st consecutive season. Gonzaga has won every WCC tournament championship since 2013.
"It never gets old," said Few, who guided his team to the NCAA Tournament championship game a year ago. "Thirty wins is a significant number in college basketball."