PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – BYU had #8 Gonzaga on the ropes.
The Cougars were up by ten points with five minutes to play, before the Bulldogs mounted a furious 17-6 rally to bring heartbreak to the sold-out crowd at the Marriott Center Thursday night.
Julian Strawther hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds left to lift Gonzaga to a 75-74 victory in the teams’ final meeting in Provo before BYU moves on to the Big 12 Conference.
Drew Timme had 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs. Anton Watson added 18 points and Strawther finished with 11, including the game-winner.
“Clearly we are super disappointed, but I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “They played their hearts out tonight. We can execute a little better, make some better decisions and come up with better plays, but overall I thought the guys played really hard. They were composed and played really aggressively, so I am super proud of them. Congratulations to Gonzaga, they made the plays they had to down the stretch to win.”
Gonzaga (15-3, 4-0 WCC) overcame 34.5% shooting in the second half to rally for the win.
Spencer Johnson scored 18 points to lead BYU. Gideon George and Jaxon Robinson chipped in 17 points apiece for the Cougars. Johnson, George, and Robinson combined to make 12 3-pointers.
BYU (13-7, 3-2 WCC) lost to Gonzaga for the sixth straight time.
“It hurts for sure,” Johnson said. “Especially because we were right there, and we put ourselves in a really good position to win this game and just couldn’t quite come through. Life and basketball never ask you ‘what happened’, but they do ask ‘how are you going to respond’. So, we are going to come tomorrow, and we are going to work and stay together. We are going to fix what we need to fix, act like pros about it, and move on to the next game.”
The Cougars staked out a quick 13-9 lead after Fousseyni Traore capped a 10-1 run by converting a 3-point play off a steal and slam. BYU soon fell behind while struggling to hold Gonzaga’s potent offensive attack in check.
Hot shooting helped Gonzaga carve out a double-digit lead late in the first half. The Bulldogs made 10 of 11 shots over a six-minute stretch and surged to a 37-27 lead over BYU. Watson accounted for four of the baskets.
Gonzaga shot 56% from the field overall before halftime.
“They may be the best pure offensive team in this league, maybe by far,” Pope said. “They’re monsters. These young guys are just straight ballers.”
BYU erased the deficit after halftime behind a flurry of 3-pointers. Johnson buried a pair of 3-pointers to ignite a 18-4 run that gave the Cougars a 66-56 lead. He and Robinson combined to make six 3-pointers over a 10-minute stretch to help BYU surge ahead of the Bulldogs again.
Gonzaga chipped away at the lead and finally went ahead on Strawther’s 3-pointer in the final seconds. Watson blocked a 3-point field goal attempt by Johnson as time ran out.
The Cougars were lethal from 3-point range for much of the game, going 13-of-25 from long distance.
“It’s just a matter of how we respond,” Pope said. “This game needs to make us hungrier, tougher, better, smarter and more dialed into the importance of the little things. We need to be more physical on the glass. Or is this going to send us spiraling? That’s the question that every athlete gets to ask over and over again. But it definitely hurts us, for sure.”
BYU next hosts Pepperdine at the Marriott Center Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.