You wanted Gonzaga?
You got ‘em.
After three straight postponed games, BYU really just wanted to play and the game with the top-ranked ’Zags lined up.
Gonzaga has pretty much hammered every team its played this year and the Cougars were simply the next victim. The ’Zags stormed to a 23-2 lead in the first half and were never challenged, cruising to an 86-69 victory at the McCarthey Center on Thursday.
“We were on to the next game, we were grinding,” BYU junior Richard Harward told the BYU Sports Network. “Then we got the ’Zags in just 48 hours. It was an emotional up and down roller coaster. But I don’t want to make excuses. We should have brought more energy tonight.”
BYU was just 1 of 10 from the field and turned the ball over six times in falling behind by 21 points in the first seven minutes of the game. Meanwhile, Gonzaga put on an offensive clinic and led 30-7 on an Omar Ballo layup with 11:01 to play in the first half. Trailing 37-16, the Cougars went on a 10-2 run to close to within 13 points, 39-26, with four points off the bench from Gideon George and a 3-pointer by Caleb Lohner at the 3:58 mark.
Over the next three minutes, Gonzaga exploded on a 13-0 spurt to take complete control again. Lohner had a late 3-point play but BYU still trailed 52-29 at the break.
At the half, the ’Zags shot 54% from the field (18 of 33), 5 of 10 from the 3-point line (50%) and 11 of 12 from the foul line (92%). The Cougars committed 11 turnovers, allowing the home team to outscore them 15-3 off turnovers and 26-12 in the paint.
The Cougars shot better than 50 percent from the field in the second half but couldn’t really seriously cut into the deficit, trailing by as many as 31 points. BYU made up some ground against the Gonzaga subs and ended up on the short end by 15 points.
Matt Haarms and Lohner led the Cougars (0-1 WCC, 9-3 overall) with 13 points apiece. That total was a career-high for Lohner. Harward scored 12 points and Gideon George played his best game in a month with 11 points.
“The things we really were focusing on in preparing for the game were transition defense and then just rebounding the ball,” Harward said. “We felt like we had larger, more physical bigs and we could be more aggressive in the post. We needed to do a better job protecting the ball and in transition defense.”
BYU’s guard line really struggled in the game. Alex Barcello scored nine – about half of his season average – and Brandon Averette (three points) and Connor Harding (zero points in 17 minutes) never found their groove on the offensive end.
“We talked about it from beginning that they have chance to be a generational team and they’ve certainly started off the season that way,” Cougar coach Mark Pope said. “They are very difficult to play. We started very poorly. Their length really affected us and I did a poor job of getting our energy right to start the game. The moment for this game was just too big for us to start.”
Cougar sophomore Wyatt Lowell left the game in the second half with an apparent ankle injury.
Corey Kispert led the Zags (2-0, 11-0) with 23 points and freshman sensation Jalen Suggs had 16 points, five assists and four steals. Drew Timme and Andew Nembhard also hit double figures with 12 points apiece.
Gonzaga outscored BYU 16-2 on fast break points and 25-7 in points off turnovers.
The Cougars are scheduled to play at Saint Mary’s and San Francisco next week, two very important games if BYU wants to stay in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament invitation.
“We are just are not good enough, and I’m not good enough, right now to handle the Zags the way they were tonight,” Pope said. “We’ve got to get better, we’re super hungry to get better and we will.”