Cougars come up short against Zags in WCC Title Game
LAS VEGAS — After leading by as many as 14 in the West Coast Conference Tournament Championship game, BYU men's basketball fell short of completing an upset of No. 1 Gonzaga, falling 88-78 Tuesday at the Orleans Arena.
“Gonzaga is a great team,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “Congratulations to them on winning this tournament championship. They're clearly super talented and well coached, and they did everything they needed to do to win. I couldn't be more proud of my guys. We addressed a lot of the concerns that we had coming in the game. We just couldn't quite get it done. So super disappointing, but really proud of our team and proud of our guys.”
Trevin Knell led the Cougars with a career-high 20 points on 7-13 shooting, including 5-10 from beyond the arc. Knell was one of five BYU players to finish in double figures. Alex Barcello finished with 15 points, Matt Haarms added 13 points and Brandon Averette and Gideon George each contributed 11 points.
BYU finished the game shooting 46% from the field and 39% from three, while Gonzaga shot 51% from the field and 46% from long range. The Cougars outscored the Bulldogs 28-3 in bench points, but the Zags out-rebounded BYU 36-34, and won the points in the paint battle, 34-32.
Haarms got it started for the Cougars with a left hook to open the game. George knocked down a 3-pointer and Averette followed with a floater the next trip down, giving BYU a 7-3 lead.
After two Knell treys and a Richard Harward lay-in, the Cougars were up 19-14. Haarms then stepped outside the arc and hit from deep. Averette knocked down another triple in transition, making it 26-19, BYU, and forcing a Gonzaga timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Haarms got a dunk off a pick-and-roll action with Spencer Johnson to give the Cougars a nine-point lead. Johnson hit from beyond the arc, Averette finished at the rim and then knocked down a floater, giving BYU a 35-23 advantage.
A Barcello layup, Haarms floater and deep Barcello trey then made it 42-30, Cougars. Knell then hit his third three of the game and Harward completed a three-point play down low for a 48-37 BYU lead.
Knell buried an elbow jumper with the shot clock winding down and then followed with his fourth trey of the night to give the Cougars a game-high 14-point lead at 53-39. That is the largest lead any time has had over Gonzaga this season.
BYU took a 12-point advantage into the half, ahead 53-41. Led by Knell’s 15 first half points, the Cougars shot a blistering 68% from the field and 69% from deep, with nine made threes. The Bulldogs were 47% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
The Zags opened the second half on a 5-0 run before Haarms got BYU on the board in the second with a baseline floater, but Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert hit back-to-back threes to make it a three-point game at 55-52.
Barcello scored from the elbow in transition, putting the Cougars back ahead by four, but the Bulldogs got a layup on the other end to keep it a one-possession game, then tying it at 57 on the following possession on two Kispert free throws.
A pair of free throws by George gave BYU the lead back, and driving layups by Knell and George had the Cougars up 63-57. Another George layup and a three-point play by Barcello then gave the Cougars another nine-point advantage, but the Zags responded with a 8-0 run to come within one at 68-67.
After the Bulldogs took their first lead of the game since the 14:13 mark of the first half, BYU answered in a Knell transition triple to tie it up at 71 with just under five and a half minutes remaining. The two teams traded baskets, but a 9-0 Gonzaga run, including back-to-back treys by the Zags' Jalen Suggs, had BYU down 82-73 late.
Barcello knocked down a three and Averette scored on a floater, but the Bulldogs would hit their free throws in the final minute and the Cougars fell short in the end, losing 88-78.
The Cougars will now await Selection Sunday, which will be televised live on Sunday, March 14, at 6 p.m. EDT (4 p.m. MDT) on CBS, to see what their seed will be and who their opponent will be in the NCAA Tournament.
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