The two best teams in the West Coast Conference met in the Marriott Center for a nationally televised conference opener. Gonzaga showed off its much improved defense against the highest scoring team in the country. BYU proved that, despite the loss, it can hang with anybody.
Stagnant offense, followed by a thrilling comeback was capped with a great display of senior leadership down the stretch from Gonzaga's veteran backcourt.
The Cougars hit just one of their first 11 shots from the field. BYU head coach Dave Rose was pushed into calling two timeouts before the first TV timeout.
While the Cougars were struggling from the field, they were staying in the game from the free throw line. During the one of 11 start from the field they connected on all six of their free throw attempts. The Cougars found themselves in the bonus less than seven and a half minutes into the game.
Once the shots started falling, which for the highest scoring team in the country is a matter of when, not if, the Cougars began clawing their way back.
Gonzaga held a 31-15 lead but a quick 16-4 run from the Cougars made it a two-possession game.
In the opening minutes it was Dave Rose who was forced to call timeout with the TV timeout looming. Late in the first half, as the BYU offense came into form, Mark Few called a stop-the-bleeding timeout. It didn't work too well.
Over the final 9:06 of the first half the Cougars outscored the Zags 28-12. After a goaltending call on Corbin Kaufusi with three seconds to play it looked like the Zags would take a three point lead into the break.
Then Kyle Collinsworth drilled a three at the buzzer to cap the Cougars' comeback and tie things up at halftime, 43 all.
Byron Wesley was dominant in the first half. He went into the break one rebound shy of a double-double. It took him just a minute and a half of second half play to reach his first double-double as a Bulldog.
BYU's first half momentum rolled into the second. The Cougars took their first lead of the game on just their second possession of the half. Tyler Haws was fouled shooting a three and connected on all three of the free throws.
With their shots falling and defense swarming the Cougars had the look of a team ready to pull off the upset.
In a hostile, sold out arena with 20,900 fans of the opposing team roaring in the stands, with his team down six points, senior point guard Kevin Pangos decided it was time to take over the game. He hit back-to-back threes to silence the crowd. Then, on the following two possessions, hit free throws that tied the game at 57.
Pangos, and his senior backcourt counterpart Gary Bell Jr., hit four three pointers in three minutes and pushed the Zags back ahead of the Cougars.
The veteran nature of this Gonzaga team was obvious in the second half. After withstanding a furious comeback from the Cougars, the Zags — mostly thru Kevin Pangos — calmed down and played deliberate, effective basketball over the final ten plus minutes.
Byron Wesley, who was quietly dominant all game, came up big at the end of the game with two impressive plays on both ends of the floor.
Kyle Wiltjer finished with a game high 24 points. Pangos added 21, 18 of which came in the second half. For BYU, Anson Winder and Tyler Haws both finished with 17 points. Kyle Collinsworth notched another triple-double with 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.