Dave Rose has been making changes to the Cougars' starting line-up all season. Early in WCC play he moved Matt Carlino to the bench in favor of Skyler Halford. Tonight he replaced Halford and Eric Mika with Anson Winder and Josh Sharp.
Both moves paid off. Carlino has been playing his best basketball as a reserve. Tonight, Winder scored five points in his first five minutes. The Cougars got off to the hot start, taking a 9-3 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Gonzaga responded and tied the game at 11 after a pair of David Stockton free throws.
Sparked by Matt Carlino's entrance at the 14:40 mark, the Cougars went on a 10-2 run. Carlino drained a long three on his first offensive possession.
Freshman big man Eric Mika also came off the bench with intensity. In the early going he seemed to be unable to touch the ball without drawing a foul. Mika shot nine free trows in the first half and made five. On top of that he was 3-5 from the field and pulled down five rebounds.
Mika went to the bench at the 5:02 mark. At the same time that Gonzaga brought in its freshman big man, Ryan Edwards.
Edwards had a grand total of two points in his career coming into this game but he turned out to be exactly what the Zags needed. He was exceptional on defense and in the right place at the right time on offense. The 7' 1", 300lbs center scored five points on 2-2 shooting (1-1 from the line) and grabbed five rebounds over the final five minutes of the half. Career highs in points and rebounds.
Gonzaga went into a zone with Edwards and ran onto a 8-2 run to pull within even. It was a Ryan Edwards jumper that tied the game, 36-36, with 57 seconds remaining. The Zags almost took a three point lead into the locker room, but Tyler Haws got in the way.
Haws hit one of his patented high degree of difficulty shots in the final seconds. His one footed three pointer made it 39 all at the break.
These two teams are offensive juggernauts, but neither team looked it coming out of halftime. BYU went on a 6-0 run but it took over three minutes. Mark Few called a timeout and put a more athletic lineup on the floor to stop the Cougars' run.
Gerard Coleman scored after the timeout and completed the old school three point play to make it a three point game. But, he followed it up with a foul on Anson Winder. Winder hit both free throws to, once again, extend the BYU lead.
Winder finished with 17 points and was a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line. He certainly made the most of his appearance in the starting line up.
It took Kevin Pangos just over 27 minutes to hit his first three pointer of the game, which made it a 52-49 BYU advantage. He wasn't the only Zag to struggle from long range. As a team Gonzaga has connected on 40% of its threes this season. Tonight, the Zags went 4-18 from deep.
Both Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower got into foul trouble over the final ten minutes, as each picked up their fourth personal foul. Dower, a senior, had an uncharacteristic lapse in judgement. His fourth foul came against Eric Mika, who had been playing pretty rough with him in the paint. Mika has a knack for getting into his opponents heads.
BYU's zone defense was impenetrable down the stretch, and that's probably the best takeaway for Cougars fans. BYU has been a pedestrian defensive team this season, allowing opponents to both score more points and shoot a higher percentage than the national average.
The Cougars held Gonzaga to just 11 points over the final ten minutes. Of those 11, six came from sophomore wing Kyle Dranginis. He was the only Zag able, or maybe willing, to drive into the Cougars' defense.
A couple untimely turnovers by BYU in the final minutes kept the score respectable, and the game interesting. But, in the end, the Cougars got the outcome they needed.
BYU's hopes for its first WCC regular season crown are still alive, though Gonzaga already owns at least a share of that crown. More importantly, the Cougars have a win over a ranked team and another RPI top-50 opponent on their resume.
Dave Rose's scheduling, as well as his line-up magic, have the ten loss Cougars on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.