The two biggest programs, most recognizable brands and most importantly, best teams in the WCC met in the title game everybody wanted and expected. BYU, now three seasons into it's time in the WCC, is no longer the new kid on the block. But, when it comes to tournament finals, it is.
Gonzaga made that very clear.
Over the past two games Sam Dower has been shooting exceptionally well from the line. He made his first 21 free throws here in Vegas. Tonight, from the very beginning, he let everyone know his shooting prowess extended to the field as well.
Between Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski, the Zags had a serious advantage in the post and exploited it unmercifully. Gary Bell Jr. got the scoring started before Dower and Karnowski took over. Ten consecutive points for the Zags came from those two.
Dower finished the half with 14 points, six of which came in the first four minutes.
Buckets weren't just coming from the bigs. Gonzaga held a double-digit advantage within eight minutes. To do that against the high-octane Cougars, you're gonna need some threes and Gonzaga has a number of deep threats to balance their bigs. Gary Bell hit both his shots from range in the half while Drew Barham connected on two of his four tries.
The Cougars couldn't shoot the ball well, 33.3% from the field in the first compared to Gonzaga's 61.3%, but they sure could shoot themselves in the foot. BYU turned the ball over ten times in the first half, seven of which came in the first ten minutes.
Everything was going Gonzaga's way, as illustrated by this video of 5' 11" David Stockton making an emphatic block.
The Zags led by as much as 21 in the half, when a Ryan Edwards tip in of a Kyle Dranginis missed three made it 44-23. That lead almost made it to the locker room, but Kyle Collinsworth had a monster final minute. A dunk, then a layup at the buzzer cut the lead to 17.
Gonzaga blasted BYU immediately in the first half. In the second, BYU blasted itself even faster than Gonzaga had done in the first. Eric Mika picked up his third personal foul after just ten seconds. In the process, he elbowed Nate Austin in the face.
Twenty points seemed to be as big as the lead could get, despite Sam Dower's best efforts to dunk the Zags to a larger lead.
Kyle Collinsworth answered with dunks of his own to keep the Cougars in it until he suffered a brutal looking knee injury. With 13:45 left, immediately after dunking on the other end, Collinsworth went up to contest a Kyle Dranginis layup. The two collided mid air and Collinsworth's right knee to the worst of it. He previously suffered an injury to that knee when the Cougars played at Saint Mary's on February 15th. As the trainers helped him to the locker room he was unable to put any weight on his right leg.
He did not return to the game.
His absence, despite having been the Cougars' best player to that point, resulted in increased intensity and efficiency. Playing for their injured teammate, the Cougars went on a 10-0 run to make it a ten point game with ten and a half minutes to play.
The run came to an end at the hands of Kyle Dranginis, who drilled a three, and was put firmly in the rear view mirror by Gary Bell, who drained a three 55 seconds later.
Matt Carlino tried to answer. Instead, he missed three straight threes on the same possession. Carlino finished with eight points on 0-5 shooting from beyond the arc and 3-12 . He did not take a three until after the Cougars' 10-0 run.
Despite the awful shooting from BYU, Gonzaga failed to extend its lead. Over the final eight minutes, the Zags never led by more than 12 points.
While the lead failed to grow, it didn't shrink either. Fantastic game management down the stretch by the Zags kept the ball out of the Cougars' hands. Methodical offense utilized the vast majority of the shot clock on nearly every possession. That is, until Dave Rose had his Cougars begin fouling.
When the final horn sounded, the Gonzaga lead was 75-64.
Four players from this game were named to the WCC all-tournament team. Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth from BYU, who finished tonight with 24 points and 13 points respectively. Collinsworth was unable to accept his award on the court "due to injury" according to the public address announcer.
Gonzaga was represented by David Stockton and Sam Dower, 20 points and 7 assists respectively. Dower was named the MVP, no doubt in large part due to his 21-21 performance from the free throw line (he was 0-3 tonight).
With the win, Gonzaga is now 28-6 on the season and heading to its 16th consecutive NCAA Tournament. Speaking of consecutive, this was the Zags 17th straight WCC Tournament final. They've been victorious in 12 of the 17 apperances.