PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – In perhaps its biggest regular season victory since the days of Jimmer Fredette, the BYU basketball team upset #2 Gonzaga on Senior Night at the Marriott Center, 91-78.
Yoeli Childs scored 28 points, while fellow seniors Jake Toolson poured in 17 points and TJ Haws had 16, as the Cougars ended Gonzaga’s 19-game winning streak.
BYU fans stormed the court in celebration after the game, as the Cougars won their 8th straight game to improve to 23-7 on the season, 12-3 in the West Coast Conference.
“I’m super happy,” said head coach Mark Pope. “It just doesn’t happen like this. A lot of times you do all that stuff and you don’t get that senior night, but these guys did tonight and it’s extraordinary and I am so happy for them. It’s actually really humbling because it just doesn’t work like this a lot, but it worked for this crew. I hope that all 18,000 of us in there and everybody that watched it on tv got to see something they’ll never forget because it’s one of those really special moments in sports and it’s not going to be our last.”
Childs made 12 of 19 shots in his final game at the Marriott Center to go along with 10 rebounds, as BYU virtually locked up a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.
“That was unbelievable,” Childs said. “The fight that we had was incredible. I’m trying to be in the moment, but this team has such big goals that I can’t help but think of how encouraging this is for our future. They made their runs and they had great players out there making great plays. Nothing they did slowed us down. It gets me really excited for the future.”
Killian Tillie scored 18 points and Corey Kispert added 16 to lead the Bulldogs. Filip Petrusev added 14 points and Admon Gilder chipped in 13. Gonzaga (27-2, 13-1) won the previous five meetings in Provo before Saturday.
“Every win right now is huge for us,” said Haws, who dished out eight assists to go along with his 6 points. “This win just gives us more confidence and keeps our momentum going. There’s magic that happens in March and this momentum will be good for us. The thing that this team has done well all year is that we take it one game at a time. We’re excited for next week.”
Gonzaga trailed by 14 points early in the second half before mounting a comeback. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 70-68 on a jumper from Drew Timme with 7:52 remaining. BYU did not let Gonzaga erase the lead entirely.
Zac Seljaas, who celebrated Senior Night with 12 points, made back-to-back baskets to give the Cougars a little breathing room again. Then Childs bookended a string of four straight BYU baskets with a layup and a jumper to put the Cougars up 87-76 with 3:15 left.
BYU got a big lift from Childs in the first half. The senior forward crashed the boards and made several critical baskets to provide a much-needed spark for the Cougars on offense.
Childs capped a 13-4 run that gave BYU a 21-18 lead with back-to-back baskets. Gonzaga briefly regained a 25-24 lead on back-to-back baskets from Kispert and Petrusev. The Cougars surged back ahead before halftime thanks to Childs.
He accounted for three buckets on a run of five straight possessions that ended in baskets for BYU. It helped the Cougars claw out a 38-32 lead.
Gonzaga struggled to keep pace with BYU after going without a field goal over the final 4:36 of the first half. The Bulldogs made just 5 of 25 three-pointers, including 1 for 10 by Corey Kispert.
The Cougars kept building on their momentum early in the second half. 3-pointers from Kolby Lee and Toolson highlighted a run of four straight baskets that put BYU up 58-44.
The Cougars shot 53.4 percent from the field, including 11 of 27 from beyond the arc.
“We wanted to continue to fight,” said Toolson, who made several three-pointers from well beyond NBA range. “We knew they were going to make runs and we wanted to take it one possession at a time. I think we were letting them get out at transition which they did really well. Once we took care of that and we were able to get some buckets, we gained the lead back. If we felt like things weren’t going our way, we just wanted to move onto the next play.”
BYU wraps up the regular season next Saturday at Pepperdine before likely beginning the WCC Tournament as the #2 seed.
“We live in every moment,” said Pope. “My whole life right now is in these guys right now. I don’t know about program trajectory. I just know that you can be in this business for 50 years and not get that night. These guys got it. It just makes me happy. The only thing it means for our program is we have got to wake up tomorrow and work our rear-ends off and that’s just the nature of the program.”