Cougars take No. 8 Gonzaga to the brink, fall in closing seconds
PROVO, Utah — In front of a sell out crowd at the Marriott Center, BYU's upset bid came up short against No. 8 Gonzaga, 75-74, on Thursday evening.
“Clearly we are super disappointed, but I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. They played their hearts out tonight," head coach Mark Pope said. "We can execute a little better, make some better decisions and come up with better plays, but overall I thought the guys played really hard. They were composed and played really aggressively, so I am super proud of them. Congratulations to Gonzaga, they made the plays they had to down the stretch to win."
Leading 73-72 with 36.8 seconds to go, BYU broke through the Gonzaga press into the frontcourt where Jaxson Robinson was fouled and went to the line for a fair of free throws. Robinson made 1-of-2 and the Zags seized the opportunity, racing down court where Julian Strawther hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds to play. The Cougars were unable to connect on their final possession and fell as the clock hit zero.
While BYU trailed the Zags by seven in the second half and 10 in the first, the Cougars fought their way back into the game and ultimately led by 10 following an 18-4 run.
BYU began its run with crisp passing leading to a 3-pointer from Spencer Johnson that cut Gonzaga’s lead to 52-51 with 12:47 to play.
BYU’s defense tightened up too, forcing the Zags to a 2-of-13 stretch from the floor aided by a Johnson steal and block from Robinson. After another Johnson steal the Cougars stormed into the lead with a trey from the sure-handed defender and back-to-back difficult jumpers in the paint from Rudi Williams.
The Marriott Center’s energy boiled to a game-high when BYU extended its momentum with a transition block by Fousseyni Traore and resultant 3-pointer from Robinson on the other end.
Though BYU led 68-58 with five minutes to play, Gonzaga wasn’t finished. The top-10 Zags battled back to a 70-69 deficit following a Hunter Sallis 3-pointer.
Desperate for a responsive make, the Cougars found one in a 3-pointer from Gideon George with under two minutes to go. George’s trey proved to be BYU’s last answer of the night as the Zags drained the game-winner moments later.
BYU shot 47% while holding Gonzaga below both its shooting percentage and scoring averages at 45% from the field and 75 points allowed. Three-point shooting was key to the Cougar offense’s success. BYU shot 52% from distance and limited the Zags to just 33% from beyond the arc.
The WCC rivals combined for 33 turnovers, 17 for BYU to 16 for the Zags. As a team, the Cougars forced 12 steals and recorded 18 assists to Gonzaga’s 17.
Gonzaga commanded the paint throughout the game, leveraging advantages in rebounding (47-32), second-chance points (16-9) and points in the paint (42-28) on its way to the win.
Johnson led the Cougars with 18 points, tying a career-high. The senior from American Fork, Utah shot 7-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from distance while grabbing six rebounds and snagging five crucial steals.
Robinson and George scored 17 points a-piece, with Robinson doing so on five 3-pointers to go along with three assists, a steal and a block.
Traore posted seven points, nine rebounds and three steals. Williams scored six points but also shared the ball to the tune of eight assists.
BYU remains at home on Saturday for a matchup with Pepperdine. The Cougars and Waves will play at 7 p.m. MST on BYUtv. Listen to the game with live play-by-play on BYU Radio Sirius XM 143, BYURadio.org/BYU Radio app or KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM.
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