It is a really good win. You get into late February and March and you beat a team that is top five in the country, that says a lot. – BYU coach Dave Rose
PROVO — A little more than one month ago, it seemed BYU’s NCAA tournament bubble had burst with a second-half meltdown and second straight loss to Pepperdine.
But last Saturday night in Spokane, the Cougars revived their postseason hopes thanks to a colossal 73-70 victory over No. 3 Gonzaga — affixing a signature victory on their tournament résumé.
BYU ended the Zags' 41-game home-court winning streak.
"It is a really good win,” said coach Dave Rose. “You get into late February and March and you beat a team that is top five in the country, that says a lot.”
With the win, BYU (23-8, 13-5), winner of six straight games, grabbed national attention.
“BYU punched its ticket with the win at Gonzaga last night,” ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman said via his Twitter account. “Dangerous team with two studs and veterans in Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth.”
Tweeted Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg: “Thought BYU was NCAA tournament-good prior to this, but it did not have an NCAA tournament-caliber résumé. This win changes that.”
“Well now, BYU provides the upset of the day in the last big game of the night,” ESPN.com’s Andy Katz tweeted. “BYU may not have all the numbers but passes the eye test.”
The Cougars leapfrogged to No. 35 in the latest official RPI rankings. Meanwhile, Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi has BYU among his “First 4 Out.”
By virtue of BYU’s monumental upset of the Zags, and Saint Mary's loss to Santa Clara, the Cougars are the No. 2 seed in this week's West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. BYU will face No. 7 Santa Clara or No. 10 Loyola Marymount Saturday.
So how did the Cougars, who had never won at the Kennel, vanquish the mighty Zags and spoil Senior Night?
Well, they rebounded aggressively and played their best defensive game of the season.
BYU held Gonzaga stars Kyle Wiltjer (2-of-11 from the field) and Kevin Pangos (3-of-12) to 12 points.
Cougar guard Kyle Collinsworth attributed the defensive performance to “just being really active. Pangos is a great player. At our place, he hit like three 3’s in a row. He’s a momentum scorer. We didn’t let him do that tonight. With Wiltjer, we tried to front him and be aggressive. Credit to us, and sometimes guys just have bad nights. A little bit of both.”
BYU recorded six blocked shots, including three by Corbin Kaufusi and a memorable one by Frank Bartley IV on a Gonzaga fast break. The Cougars limited Gonzaga to 44 percent shooting from the field, including 37 percent in the second half, and outrebounded the Zags 41-39.
“That’s been our big focus — rebounding and playing defense,” said Collinsworth, who scored 20 points. “We’ve been at it the last month really hard every day in practice. It’s showing up. We’re 19-0 when we outrebound our opponent.”
BYU had a 19-12 edge in second-chance points. Collinsworth had eight offensive rebounds, including the biggest one of his career, a putback with 17 seconds remaining that gave the Cougars a 71-66 lead.
Guard Skyler Halford said his team entered Saturday’s game with confidence.
“I didn’t feel any anxiety or worry. I just felt really excited and felt really good about the game,” Halford said. “We were all extremely confident and we knew what we could do. We know what type of team we are, and we are a good team. We knew we could come in here and get a win. We played together, and did the best we could, and it came out good for us.”
After the win, BYU celebrated in the locker room.
“It’s crazy. Kinda scary. A lot of water, a lot ice, a lot of jumping around. It’s a good time,” Collinsworth said of the celebration. “That’s why I love basketball. I love winning big games and celebrating with my teammates and reflecting back on all the hard work we’ve done. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but our hard work is paying off.”
Collinsworth wasn’t looking ahead to the NCAA tournament.
“I’ll let them decide,” he said of the NCAA tournament committee. “I’ll continue to go to school and play basketball.”
But Collinsworth is thinking about the upcoming WCC tournament.
“I’m ready to go. I’m going to celebrate with my teammates, relax, take my mind off basketball and just enjoy this. On Monday, we’ll get back to work.”