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After falling to Gonzaga, BYU appears to be headed to the NIT

Brigham Young Cougars guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) leaves the court  after  the WCC tournament in Las Vegas Monday, March 7, 2016.  BYU lost 88-84.
Brigham Young Cougars guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) leaves the court after the WCC tournament in Las Vegas Monday, March 7, 2016. BYU lost 88-84.
Jeffrey D. Allred,

LAS VEGAS — BYU and Gonzaga staged a championship-quality game Monday night at Orleans Arena, even though it was only the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals.

The Zags eliminated the Cougars, 88-84, in front of a crowd of 8,362, in a battle that, once again, went down to the end.

With the loss, BYU’s hopes of another NCAA bid evaporated. It appears the Cougars (23-10) are headed for the National Invitation Tournament.

“There were a lot of emotions in the locker room from a lot of different guys,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “My message to them was that I’m proud to be their coach, and I hope we can still play together again. We’ll see if that happens.”

BYU last played in the NIT in 2013 and advanced to the Final Four at Madison Square Garden in New York City where it fell to Baylor in the semifinals.

The NIT pairings will be announced Sunday night.

According to Gonzaga coach Mark Few, the WCC’s top three teams are deserving of NCAA tournament bids.

“The eye test tells you BYU’s a tournament team, Gonzaga’s a tournament team and, obviously, Saint Mary’s is a tournament team,” Few said. “I’ve been a No. 1 and No. 2 seed in (the NCAA) tournament and if I was a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed, and I saw this team (Gonzaga) pop up, I wouldn’t sleep that week. I can tell you that. We’ve been in every game to the last possession. I feel that if we played a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed this year we’d probably play them to the last possession, too. And if BYU’s name popped up, and I was a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed, I wouldn’t sleep … I think the league has been undervalued. I don't think we played the RPI game very well."

By beating BYU, Gonzaga won its 19th consecutive WCC tournament semifinal game. Stars Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis proved to be too much for the Cougars. Wiltjer scored 29 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Sabonis had 18 points and 14 boards.

BYU is 0-4 all-time against Gonzaga in the WCC tournament.

What makes the Zags so good?

“Over the years, it’s been their depth. This year they’re not quite as deep,” Rose said. “It’s their physicality, the size and their length. They do a good job of really protecting the rim, rebounding around the rim. They’re a championship team. To be a championship team, you have to take advantage of your opportunities.”

BYU freshman Nick Emery scored a team-high 27 points, including five 3-pointers.

Asked what lessons he can take from this year's tournament that he can apply to the future, Emery said he learned “to keep battling. In the postseason, every team’s fighting for a championship. I haven’t given next year a second thought. I’m so focused on this year and to play in the postseason wherever that may be. It’s definitely a fun learning experience.”

Emery, who struggled in the two regular-season games against the Zags, hit 10 of 19 shots, including 5 of 11 from 3-point range Monday.

What was the difference this time?

"Once I hit that first shot, it was a confidence boost," Emery said. "I thought Kyle (Collinsworth) did a good job finding me in transition. It was one game where you kind of feel it all year, it's up and down, and you've got to keep battling and know that the next shot's going in."

Senior guard Chase Fischer scored 15 points but hit only 4 of 16 shots from the field and 3 of 11 from 3-point territory. Guard Zac Seljaas finished with nine points but was held scoreless in the second half.

Senior guard Kyle Collinsworth scored 16 points and tallied 11 rebounds to go along with six assists against Gonzaga. Though it was a disappointing result, Collinsworth said, Monday's game was a memorable experience.

“As a player, you couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere to play in. The crowd was great and the energy and feel was great," he said. "Unfortunately, we didn’t come out on top. Those types of atmosphere are special. You always remember those. You try to cherish that.”

“Both teams were fighting for our lives,” Wiltjer said. “People don’t see us as (NCAA) tournament teams. That increased our desperation. Both teams were playing so hard and putting it all on the line. We made plays when we needed to. Hats off to BYU, they’re a great team.”