LAS VEGAS — BYU had no answers for the hot-shooting Gonzaga Bulldogs in falling 91-75 in the championship game of the West Coast Conference tournament Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs only struggled to shoot the ball from the free-throw line in winning rubber match over the Cougars, who beat them 73-70 on Senior Night in the last game of the regular season.
Tuesday, Gonzaga shot 29 for 54 from the field (53.7 percent), including 8 for 12 from beyond the 3-point arc (66.7 percent) to improve to 32-2 on the season.
Kyle Wiltjer led a very balanced offensive attack that saw six Zags reach double figures in scoring. He finished with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting from the field, including a 3-for-3 from distance to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. also made major contributions in the win. Pangos totaled 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting, including 2 for 3 from 3-point land with five assists and three rebounds while Bell had 15 points, four rebounds and two steals while locking down BYU's all-time leading scorer Tyler Haws for much of the contest.
Domantas Sabonis added 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the floor and 7 for 8 from the free-throw line as well as six rebounds in 18 minutes of play, while Przemek Karnowski chipped in with 12 points and four rebounds.
Kyle Collinsworth paced BYU with 28 points on 9-for-22 shooting from the floor and 9 for 11 from the charity stripe with eight rebounds and five assists. The only other Cougars to reach double figures were Haws and Skyler Halford. Haws registered 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting with four rebounds and four assists, while Halford managed 13 points on the strength of a 3-for-5 shooting night from 3-point range.
Why the Cougars lost
When the opposing team shoots that well from the floor and gets to the free-throw line 37 times, there isn't much chance of coming a way with the win.
While the Cougars were doing their best to shut down the interior play of Karnowski and Sabonis, the Gonzaga guards and wings took advantage with plenty of open looks. BYU had no answers in either case, and it cost them their first loss in the last nine games.
What it means
While they have played extremely well down the stretch, the Cougars are squarely on the bubble for a slot in the NCAA tournament. BYU has built a very nice resume and has a good shot to make the dance, but some really crazy things happen in conference tournaments, and that might take away an available spot or two.
Grading the performances
The Cougar got 19 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end from their big man rotation of Corbin Kaufusi, Isaac Neilson, Luke Worthington and Ryan Andrus in 45 minutes. The rotation also managed nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field with each player attempting just one shot.
While the Cougars did a nice job on the backboards, they didn't shoot the ball well making just 27-of-67 attempts from the floor (40.3 percent). After a big night in the semifinal win over Portland, Chase Fischer had a rough night with six points on 3-for-12 shooting, including 0-for-4 from 3-point land.
The Bulldogs proved why they are the head of the class in the West Coast Conference and one of the best teams in all of college basketball. They are deep and talented at every position. They have the size and skill to win the game in the paint or do it from the perimeter. While they had no answers for Collinsworth, Gonzaga managed to control the other BYU scorers enough to come away with the win.
Three telling stats
— The Cougars had 12 assists on 27 made field goals. They now have a record of 6-9 on the season when they have less than 15 assists in a game.
— The Bulldogs went 25 for 37 from the free-throw line (67.6 percent). The 37 free-throw attempts is the most given up by BYU all season long.
— Gonzaga hit on 66.7 percent of its shots from beyond the 3-point arc (8-for-12). That is the best percentage anyone shot against the Cougars the entire season.
The Cougars will have to sweat it out for the next five days to find out if their 25 wins and road victory over Gonzaga to end the season were good enough to earn themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament. If they fall short of that goal, there will be a spot in the NIT, which will likely include a couple of games in the friendly confines of the Marriott Center.
Jay Yeomans is a courier by day and a freelance writer by night. He is the creator and lead writer of the website jmoneysports.com. Contact him at email@example.com. Twitter: @jmoneysports