No. 1 Gonzaga overwhelms BYU to set WCC win streak record

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PROVO — It's going to take a special night for any team to beat Gonzaga, the perennial West Coast Conference power and currently top-ranked team in the nation.

Down a man and with an uncharacteristic shooting performance, the Cougars simply didn’t have that kind of night.

Killian Tillie had 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Corey Kispert added 19 points, five rebounds and two assists to help No. 1 Gonzaga overwhelm visiting BYU 92-69 Saturday night in the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington.

Joel Ayayı added 14 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals for the Zags (20-1, 6-0 WCC), who set a West Coast Conference record with their 33rd-straight league victory in regular-season play.

“They played well tonight, and they’re obviously the best team in America,” BYU coach Mark Pope told BYU Radio. “My guys are playing so hard, putting their hearts on the floor, and they did that tonight. I’ve just got to help them more as a coach, and we’ve got to get better as a staff.

“We’ve got to get better every day, and these guys will.”

TJ Haws led BYU with 17 points and six assists, and Jake Toolson added 16 points and two assists for the Cougars (14-6, 3-2 WCC).

Gonzaga improved to 18-6 against BYU with its sixth-straight victory in the series.

“You never feel safe in the league when playing BYU,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told ESPN after the game. “They’re so explosive. Haws is such a good playmaking guard; he does a variety of things. And now they’ve mixed in the other guards — it’s really a hard prep.

“I thought we played awesome defense against a really good offensive team.”

BYU shot just 6-of-20 from 3-point range, and were outrebounded 36-21. The latter was expected, perhaps, playing without star forward Yoeli Childs. The senior dressed and warmed up but did not play while he recovers from a dislocated index finger on his main shooting hand.

The former? Not so much — and the Bulldogs simply shot 74% in the second half to rub salt in the wound of a visiting team that shot 51% on the road in The Kennel.

“We’ve got to make sure he’s not at risk of re-injury for his finger,” Pope said of Childs. “That would be monumental. He deserves for all of us to do right by him.”

BYU missed its first six attempts from 3-point range, and though they stayed within a possession early, the Zags used a 9-2 run to stretch its lead to 23-15 with about 10 minutes remaining in the first half. BYU never led again, and barely threatened.

Tillie’s open triple helped Gonzaga’s lead swell to 31-18 with 5:06 left in the half, and the 6-foot-10 forward shot 5-of-10 from the field to lead the Bulldogs with 14 points at the break. Gonzaga outrebounded BYU 21-14, including an 8-1 margin on the offensive glass, to take a 38-31 halftime lead.

BYU didn’t hit a triple until Seljaas’ make with 1:15 to go in the half during a 9-3 run to end the half.

BYU was just 2-of-13 from deep by the first media timeout of the second half. The Cougars, ranked No. 4 nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage, couldn’t make a trey — while Gonzaga belied its ranking with 5-of-15 shots from beyond the arc and a 26-10 advantage in the paint to that point.

Photo: Alex Gallardo, AP
Photo: Alex Gallardo, AP

“I thought we made a few good runs, and I thought we were going to come back a few times,” said BYU guard Alex Barcello, who finished with nine points and four rebounds. “But we’re a lot better shooting team than we showed tonight. We had a lot of looks that normally fall, but they didn’t.

“Shooters shoot, and we’re not going to stop shooting.”

Gonzaga lost top scorer Filip Petrusev to a lower-leg injury early in the second half. Tillie missed large stretches of the second half, as well.

It didn’t seem to matter.

Ayayi. Kispert. Woolridge and Adam Gilder, who scored 14. It didn’t matter. The Zags were simply too deep, or too powerful, or too — well, too much like the top-ranked team in the nation.

Petrescu, who averaged 16.7 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Zags, finished with five points and five rebounds before leaving the game early with a lower-leg injury.

“They are a very well-coached team, the guys play hard, and they’re very talented,” Barcello said. “They have a lot of scoring threats at every position.

“It was a really good team tonight, but we’re going to keep getting better. We’re not going to let this hold us back.”

Next up

BYU continues its three-game conference road trip next Thursday at Pacific, followed by a Saturday trip to the Hilltop against San Francisco.

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