They’re 23-0 and their point guard just put himself firmly in the national player of the year conversation. Not a bad Thursday for the Zags.
Gonzaga opened up a 19 point lead and scored 42 points in the first half, without any Zag hitting double-figures. Mark Few’s team is as balanced as there is in college hoops. But when the Cougars came roaring back early in the second half, Mark Few’s point guard showed that he’s as good as there is in college hoops. Nigel Williams-Goss scored 11 straight in less than two minutes to silence the 19,000-strong Marriott Center crowd and thwart a BYU comeback attempt.
Williams-Goss (33 points) led all scorers while TJ Haws led the Cougars with 29.
Eric Mika (15 points, 11 rebounds), who averages 20.8 points per game, has been the focal point of the Cougars’ offense all season. And in this game his size and strength would need be huge defensively against Przemek Karnowski (9 points, 8 rebounds) and Gonzaga’s quartet of bigs.
But when Mika tripped over teammate Elijah Bryant (12 points) and hobbled out of the game the Zags took full advantage of his short absence. Johnathan Williams (12 points) got Mika’s replacement Braiden Shaw up in the air, blew past him and slammed it home emphatically.
That dunk sparked a quick 8-2 Gonzaga run and the Zags looked for the rest of the half.
Gonzaga’s dominant defense was on display early as well. The Cougars hit just 32% of their shots in the first half, and managed a season-low 26 points.
BYU looked much more calm and composed in the second half, and the Cougars blitzed the Bulldogs right out of the break. With 17:23 to play Nick Emery stripped Karnowski in the paint, got the outlet to a streaking Haws who buried a transition three. It was a 12 point game at that point, but the way the crowd was roaring it seemed so much closer.
So Mark Few called a timeout to take the air out of the building. It didn’t work. The lead was cut to ten, then to eight. On top of that, Karnowski, Josh Perkins (11 points) and Johnathan Williams (12 points) all picked up their third fouls before the first TV timeout of the half.
Gonzaga’s undefeated season was hanging in the balance, and with foul trouble impacting their balanced offense the Zags needed a spark. So Williams-Goss stepped up and one-upped Haws’ transition play from moments before.
With 14:30 left Williams-Goss stole the ball in the paint, took it coast-to-coast and euro stepped a defender for an and-one. Three points of his aforementioned 11 straight.
The two teams traded blow after blow, particularly Williams-Goss and Haws, for the rest of the game.
With two minutes to play the Cougars made it a two possession game, but they just didn’t have enough to get it done.
Gonzaga improves to 23-0 (11-0 WCC). Those 23 straight wins are a new program record. BYU falls to 16-8 (7-4 WCC). The Cougars are now tied for third in the WCC standings with Santa Clara.