This is supposed to be a great game.
These programs are the most well known and respected in the conference. BYU (1) and Gonzaga (9) were the only teams to receive first place votes in the WCC preseason coaches poll. On the court, both are led by offensive-minded coaches.
Most importantly, both teams need to pick up signature wins and avoid any more stumbles in conference play (both have recently lost at Portland).
For the first thirty or so minutes, this was a great game. BYU, coming off a triple-overtime loss at Portland on Thursday, just seemed to run out of gas right as the Zags started picking up steam.
David Stockton led the way for Gonzaga in the early going, scoring eight of the team's first ten points. Soon after that, Gary Bell Jr. entered the game. Normally a starter, this was Bell's second game back after suffering a broken hand in December. He is the team's best perimeter defender and his presence helped keep the high octane Cougars from lighting it up.
While Gonzaga led for the majority of the first half, BYU pulled the game even at 27 with 4:04 left to play. By the end of the half the Zags led 35-33. The Cougars average over 87 points per game and the Zags, over 80.
The combination of a tired Cougars' offense and strong BYU zone defense kept both teams below their normals. That's not to say they weren't getting production from usual suspects. Sam Dower and Tyler Haws, for the Zags and Cougars respectively, posted 12 points each in the first half.
Coming out of the break, the offenses started to look like ones fans are accustomed to seeing. BYU scored nine points and Gonzaga 14 by the first media timeout of the half.
Kevin Pangos, who had just one field goal in the first half, was responsible for igniting the Zags in the second. He connected on all five of his second half three point attempts and finished with 24 points.
Stockton, Bell and Drew Barham also contributed three point baskets for Gonzaga. The team hit ten of 22 three pointers in the game.
While the Cougars were still within striking distance until the final minutes, their ability to hang with Gonzaga on the interior took a serious hit with just under ten minutes to play. Eric Mika picked up his third foul of the game and went to the bench for three minutes. When he returned at 6:20, Gonzaga had a 12 point advantage.
Mika set up an Anson Winder three pointer to cut the lead to single digits with four and a half minutes to play. That would be as close as the Cougars could get.
Sam Dower answered with a lay-in on the other end to push it back to an 11 point lead. The Cougars would only make one more basket, a Nate Austin lay in, from that point. Gonzaga's guard duo of Pangos and Bell outscored BYU 8-2 after the final media timeout. With that, the Zags secured a 15 point victory.
Gonzaga is now 18-3 (8-1) on the season and two games up on Saint Mary's for first place. BYU, which received a first place vote in the preseason poll, sits in fourth. At 13-9 (5-4), the Cougars are likely on the outside looking in for bracketologists. Another opportunity missed for Dave Rose's group.
This is BYU's second two game losing skid in WCC play this season.
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