The biggest discussion following this game deals with seeding. Does it knock the Zags out of contention for a one seed in the NCAA Tournament? Will it push the Cougars into the seeded NCAA Tournament field? What is being overlooked, despite being more important in the short term, is that it gives BYU the two seed in next week's WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.
Which sets up a rematch in the championship game a week from Monday. College basketball rules.
The Cougars started strong with their typical up-tempo offense but it was their defense, which was until today not known to exist, which set the tone.
Gonzaga, which has been infuriatingly uninspired to start games for the past month or so, was ice cold early. Byron Wesley scored a minute into the game but the Zags found themselves stuck on two points for the next five minutes. During that span BYU built a nine point lead out of four lay-ups from their guards.
The match-up I figured would define this game was Gonzaga's elite front-court against BYU's almost non-existent front-court, an obvious win for the Zags. Instead it proved to be BYU's array of guards vs. Gonzaga's bigs and those guards took full advantage of the mismatch.
Domantas Sabonis checked in at 14:42 and as he has done all season, provided an immediate spark off the bench. Moments after coming in Sabonis rattled off six straight points which cut the BYU lead to just three.
Skyler Halford, who has been quite hot for the Cougars down the stretch, stayed hot tonight. He drilled a highly contested three with 9:37 left and was fouled by Silas Melson to complete a four point play. Halford finished with 14 points on five of nine shooting from the field.
BYU outrebounded the Zags 21-18 in the first half. The Cougars are undefeated this season win winning the battle of the boards. They would go on to win that battle 41-39.
The Cougars weren't just pulling down misses, they were stopping shots before they got to the basket. BYU blocked for shots in the first half and six overall.
The only real hiccup for the Cougars came with 1:15 remaining in the half as the Gonzaga defense stepped up and forced a shot clock violation.
That violation was just part of a general momentum shift in which Gonzaga came back to tie the game at 36 just before halftime.
Anson Winder started the second half for the Cougars, replacing Josh Sharp and giving the Cougars a four-guard line-up. BYU had used that four-guard line up to start games for about the first month-and-a-half of conference play.
The Cougars used their four guards so well that the dominant front-court of Gonzaga was essentially neutralized. Mark Few even went with four guards of his own to try and slow down the Cougars. It did not work. Kyle Collinsworth, who at 6-foot-6 plays point guard, took advantage of the smaller Zags to the tune of 20 points and eight rebounds
Corbin Kaufusi, the Cougars' freshman center, also took advantage of the line-up changes. He scored seven points over the first seven minutes of the second half.
Byron Wesley, who might still be playing his first year at Gonzaga but is still a senior, really tried to right the ship on senior night. Just too late. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half as the Zags repeatedly cut into the Cougars' lead but never managed to overcome it.
The high speed Cougars would finish the game with two shot clock violations. The second, and far more outrageous, came with 1:09 left to play and just seconds after a Dave Rose called timeout.
Seriously, how does that happen? Not only was it right after the timeout but it came just as the Zags desperately needed a stop and it gave them exactly that. Mr. Second Half, Byron Wesley, connected on two free throws on the following possession and suddenly it was a three point game.
Still, this was BYU's night. Not often (only nine times has it happened) do teams come into the Kennel and leave with a victory. Tonight it seemed some strange free throw magic was on BYU's side.
Tyler Haws, an 88% free throw shooter, missed two free throws with six seconds left that would have all but sealed the victory. At the other end of the floor Eric McClellan tried to miss his second free throw but just couldn't do it.
Gonzaga falls to 29-2 (17-1) while BYU improves to 23-8 (13-5).