There are adults on this planet who have not lived through a WCC Tournament Final in which Gonzaga did not play.
With no depth to speak of the Zags gritted their way to the program's 19th consecutive title game. Gonzaga's defense set the tone early, allowing Kyle Wiltjer (29 points) and the offense to open up a lead, albeit not often very large, and and hold it for the majority of the 40 minutes. It was a complete victory for Gonzaga in a raucous and packed Orleans Arena.
"It was just a great, epic basketball game," head coach Mark Few said.
All three of the Cougars' bigs picked up four fouls, but the highly physical nature of the game did not eliminate efficiency. Both teams scored on at least 50% of their possessions. After a rough start in which the Cougars turned the ball over four times in seven and a half minutes they would go on to total just ten on the game.
Reserve center Ryan Edwards suffered a knee sprain in Gonzaga's quarterfinal win, leaving just Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis (18 points, 14 rebounds) up front for Gonzaga. Sabonis had gotten into foul trouble in the first meeting between the teams this year, a BYU victory in Spokane. Tonight he and Wiltjer picked up just one foul a piece.
Nick Emery (27 points) was the lone bright spot for the Cougars' early, as he hit back-to-back threes to keep Gonzaga from opening up a double-digit lead.
Kyle Wiltjer had another huge first half, falling just three points short of his fifth 20 point opening period performance of the season. While it seemed that Gonzaga was in full control after their strong start, it turned out they would need all 17 of those first half points.
That's because BYU recovered from their shaky start and, with 1:30 to play in the first, Zac Seljaas (9 points) hit a three to make it a one point game. Then at the buzzer Corbin Kaufusi (7 points) flew in for a one handed, putback slam to tie it at 47.
BYU needed just two possessions to reclaim the lead on an Emery three. It was their first since going up 2-0.
It was a shortlived lead, in large part because the Cougars started stringing together misses. Neither team shot as well in the second half as they had in the first. Gonzaga suffered a nearly three minute long scoring drought until Sabonis connected on a free throw at the 9:44 mark, which extended the Zags' lead to four points. The sequence leading to that free throw began with Sabonis and Wiltjer trapping Kyle Collinsworth (16 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists) in the corner.
All three were named to the All-WCC First Team, Collinsworth is the WCC' Player of the Year and the other two likely finished second and third in the voting. It was quite a sight.
Another of BYU's first teamer's, Chase Fischer (15 points), needed over 32 minutes to connect on his first three pointer. The senior who is in his second season at BYU moved over 200 made threes in his Cougars career tonight. Gonzaga's best-in-the-nation three point percentage defense, and WCC Defensive Player of the Year Eric McClellan (15 points), no doubt had a lot to do with that.
With 4:27 to play Kyle Davis (7 points) hit a shot that made it a two possession game.
BYU would get no closer, but they never let the Zags get out of arms reach either. In the double bonus down the stretch the Zags scored seven of their final 12 points from the free throw line, leaving BYU to attempt a comeback from the field. Contrary to their normal up-tempo approach, the Cougars let the Zags run a lot of offense down the stretch. In the end it led to time running out on the Cougars' comeback attempt. Nate Austin got a lay-in to go at the buzzer, but his team was down by six at the time.
Gonzaga, now with 25 wins for the ninth straight year, will face their arch-rival Saint Mary's Gaels (27-4) in Tuesday's WCC Tournament Championship Game. BYU, sitting at 23-10, will have to wait for next year to pick up the program's first WCC title.