LAS VEGAS (ABC4 Sports) – BYU gave Gonzaga its biggest test of the season, but the Bulldogs showed why they are the #1 team in the nation and pulled away for an 88-78 victory to win another West Coast Conference Tournament title.
Trevin Knell scored a career-high 20 points, while Alex Barcello added 15 as BYU built a 53-41 lead at the half, the largest halftime deficit for the Bulldogs all season.
But Jalen Suggs took over down the stretch, finishing with 23 points as Gonzaga remained the only undefeated team in the nation with its 30th straight win.
“Credit to Gonzaga for putting some pressure on us,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “I felt like we were trying to manage a little bit of fatigue and a little bit of running out of gas. So the combination of those two things I thought was significant. It’s just super disappointing, but I’m really proud of our team and proud of our guys.”
BYU was coming off an overtime victory over Pepperdine on Monday, and appeared to run out of steam in th second half. The Cougars made nine three-pointers and shot 68 percent (21 of 31) from the field in putting up 53 points in the first half.
But the Cougars made just 10 of 36 shots from the field (28%) in the second half.
“I thought we started out great,”Barcello said. “Our mindset was great coming into the game. We knew that if any team was going to beat them, then we were the team. Gonzaga responded in the second half. We had a really good first half, and then some shots didn’t fall for us. We didn’t grab a couple rebounds in the the second half and Gonzaga pulled away.”
Matt Haarms had 13 points and four rebounds, while Gideon George and Brandon Averette each added 11 for the Cougars. Caleb Lohner did not score, but pulled down a team-high ten rebounds.
Joel Ayayi scored 18 points and Drew Timme added 14 as Gonzaga heads into the NCAA Tournament with a record of 26-0.
BYU built a lead as high as 14 points in the first half, using an 11-0 run to go into the break with a 12-point lead.
“We couldn’t stop them,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “They had us on roller skates.”
Gonzaga came out on fire in the second half, going on an 11-2 run to cut the lead to three.
BYU then stretched the lead to nine on a bucket by Barcello. But Gonzaga went on a 12-0 run to re-take the lead.
Haarms tied the game at 73 with a basket down low with 4:20 left, only to see the Bulldogs close the game on a 15-5 run, capped by two big three-pointers from Suggs.
“They’re really good,” Pope said. “They played a great game and competed the whole way. They do a terrific job.”
BYU (20-6) will still get an at-large bid to the Big Dance. The Cougars will found out its opponent on Selection Sunday.
“We’ve got our strengths and we’ve got our weaknesses,” Barcello said. “We’re going to go back to Provo, watch film and just try to get better leading up to this NCAA Tournament.”