No. 16 Gonzaga holds off BYU in another classic, but Cougars don't want moral victories

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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

PROVO — Even with a stunning loss at Pepperdine just two days prior, BYU gave No. 16 Gonzaga everything it could handle in its final trip to the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington.

Julian Strawther scored 17 of his game-high 26 points in the second half; and Drew Timme added 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to help Gonzaga hold off BYU 88-81, handing the Cougars their fifth loss in the last seven games.

Rashir Bolton added 13 points for the Zags (21-5, 10-2 WCC), and Anton Watson supplied 12 points and six rebounds.

Fousseyni Traore totaled 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and Spencer Johnson added 17 points, seven assists and three rebounds as BYU pushed Gonzaga into the ropes in their final game as West Coast Conference colleagues played in Eastern Washington.

Noah Waterman added 12 points and three rebounds for BYU (16-12, 6-7 WCC), and Rudi Williams supplied 11 points off the bench.

Just like in Gonzaga's 1-point win a month ago in Provo, the latest meeting of the decade-old WCC rivalry series turned into another barn burner. The fight was there. The scrappiness was there. Even the game plan was there, at least for large stretches.

But the result wasn't, and that's all that matters for BYU coach Mark Pope.

"It's a results-based sport," Pope told BYU Radio. "We're having the same postgame conversation we have every single game, and that's incredibly frustrating. We play this game to get results; it's why we're here. That's where all the frustration comes from.

"My guys are learning and growing; it's a beautiful process, but it is so wildly painful and so emotional. I love coaching these kids so much right now, and we are going to write an incredible story over the next few years. All this pain is going to be the opening chapters … but in the middle of it, it's so incredibly painful. That's the way it's supposed to be. It's how you learn."

Yes, growth is important, Pope admitted. He spouted off all the appropriate cliches about being proud of his players, their fight and their will. He said they were "fully invested tonight," and gave credit to Traore, Atiki Ally Atiki, freshmen Dallin Hall and Richie Saunders.

BYU assisted on 15 of 31 made field goals, led by Johnson's seven, and four more from Hall.

"My only problem with Spence was I played him too much in the second half. He was getting a little fatigued," Pope said. "I thought he was unbelievable, but he got tattooed all night long on the wide screens to the middle and the dribble handoff. He's clearly been playing great basketball for us on both sides of the ball, and I thought he was terrific tonight."

BYU knocked down four 3-pointers in the first six minutes, and finished the half with seven total. Jaxson Robinson, making his first start since Jan. 21, hit two of those 3-pointers, and the Cougars held Gonzaga scoreless for the final 5:20 to trail 57-54 at the break.

Johnson had a game-high 11 points in the first half for BYU, which shot 43% from the field before halftime and outrebounded the Zags by five. But Gonzaga finished with a 34-33 edge on the glass, outrebounding the Cougars by as much as 5-1 down the stretch with eight offensive rebounds and 12 second-chance points.

Of course, the No. 16 team in the nation didn't go away. Gonzaga came back, as it always does, with Strawther attacking the basket and Timme pulling the Zags as close as ever in a physical second half.

The Zags cut the deficit inside a possession, as close as 1 point away. But every time the Cougars responded, including on Traore's 3-point play to give BYU a game-high 61-55 advantage with 9:22 to go.

The Cougars did it through foul trouble, with Gideon George and Atiki saddled with four fouls midway through the second half. That led to extended minutes for Treydyn Christensen, who had three rebounds in nine minutes of play; and Malachi Smith gave the Zags their first lead of the second half with a steal-and-score with seven minutes to go.

"They would've played on the floor a lot more tonight if it were for such foul troubles," Pope said of Traore and Atiki, who combined for seven of his team's 28 fouls (Gonzaga had 14). "That lineup faltered for us. … We couldn't rebound the ball late.

"That is us of the future. College basketball is not building for the future much; nobody is patient enough. But we are in that process, we're doing this a little different, and we're taking the hits right now. But there's going to be a time where Fouss and Atiki on the floor is going to be a mainstay for us."

But the Cougars didn't wilt. Six-straight points by Traore, including wicked dunk followed by a finesse-worthy reverse lay-in, capped a 6-0 run over a minute that gave BYU the lead, 71-68, with 4:21 on the clock.

But that was the last time BYU would hold a lead. Gonzaga held the Cougars scoreless for over three minutes, and Strawther paced a 9-2 run to put the hosts ahead for good.

An upset was brewing on a night where top-rated Saint Mary's had to use a 16-0 second-half run to pull away from Portland, Santa Clara upset LMU two days after the Lions' win over the Gaels, and Pacific upset San Diego by five. None of that will matter to BYU, but it does drop the Cougars to 6-7 in conference play and sixth place in the league standings.

The Cougars return home next Thursday, Feb. 16 to host Santa Clara. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST on CBS Sports Network before traveling to No. 15 Saint Mary's on Saturday.

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