SPOKANE, Wash. (ABC4 Sports) – BYU has had success against Gonzaga in the past. The Cougars beat the Bulldogs when they were ranked #1 back in 2017, and again last season when Gonzaga was #2.
But Thursday night in Spokane, the top-ranked Bulldogs established control early and blew BYU out.
Corey Kispert scored 23 points as the undefeated Gonzaga cruised past BYU, 86-69, in a hastily scheduled game after both teams lost their original opponents to COVID-19 issues.
Jalen Suggs added 16 points for Gonzaga, while Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard scored 12 each. Gonzaga (11-0, 2-0 West Coast Conference) won its 45th consecutive home game, the longest streak in the nation.
“Gonzaga has a chance to be a generational team, and they’ve certainly started out the season that way,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “What they’ve done to those top 20 teams and everybody else, they’re really difficult to handle, and we started really poorly. I was really proud of the guys. At no point in the game did they walk away, and that is not consolation for losing, that is the DNA of a team that has a chance to be really, really good.”
Matt Haarms and Caleb Lohner each scored 13 points for BYU (9-3, 0-1), which had not played since Dec. 23 after a pair of WCC games were postponed because of COVID-19. BYU was hurt by poor shooting most of the game.
Gonzaga was supposed to play Santa Clara on Thursday and BYU was scheduled to play Pacific. But both those teams had to drop out because of COVID-19 protocols, so Gonzaga and BYU decided to play each other a month early.
BYU’s long layoff was evident early, as the Cougars committed five turnovers in the first four minutes to fall behind 16-2. Gonzaga made seven of its first nine shots.
The Cougars made only two of their first 12 shots to trail 30-7 with just over nine minutes gone in the first half.
BYU finally found its shooting touch and Haarms scored seven points as the Cougars got within 32-16.
Lohner’s 3-pointer capped a 10-2 run and brought BYU within 39-26 with four minutes left in the first.
Gonzaga replied with a 13-0 run and led 52-29 at halftime, after holding BYU to 33% shooting and forcing 11 turnovers in the first. Five Zags scored at least eight points in the first, led by Kispert’s 11 points.
Kispert scored six points during an 11-2 second-half run that lifted Gonzaga to a 73-42 lead.
“I do think we got better over the last couple weeks,” Pope said about the long layoff. “I’m not trying to take anything away from the Zags, but they didn’t get the best BYU team in the first 10 minutes of this game, and that’s my job. I do feel like we got better over the last couple weeks, but sometimes it’s difficult to simulate a team like this — they’re really good. I’m really excited about getting this out of the way the first game of conference because it just shows us clearly and glaringly areas where we have to get better.”
BYU will next play at St. Mary’s on January 14th.