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Gonzaga sends BYU packing in Las Vegas after winning 3-point shooting contest

LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga won target practice.

The Zags won their 19th straight semifinal in the West Coast Conference Basketball Tournament late Monday, outlasting BYU 88-84.

This was a bullseye affair and Gonzaga triumphed in a hard-fought, intense battle that, for many, was a championship-caliber game, not a lead-in affair.

Kyle Wiltjer buried a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 5:08 to play to rally the Zags after a possession in which Gonzaga led BYU just 71-70. He calmly knocked down another with less than three minutes to play in the game to seal the victory and put the Zags up 81-74. But before that, BYU freshman Nick Emery had made more bombs than anybody on the floor.

This third showdown between Gonzaga and BYU proved a staredown between both squad’s 3-point shooters. It was a pistol-packing parade: Wiltjer, Josh Perkins and Eric McClellan versus BYU’s Chase Fischer and freshmen Zac Seljaas and Emery.

Wiltjer and Emery tied with five. But Wiltjer and his posse were awarded the trophy because Wiltjer’s bombs proved ultimately more timely and deadly.

“I thought there were some unbelievable performances,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “Our guys showed great courage in making plays down the stretch. You hear all this rhetoric about how we don’t deserve teams in the tournament. Holy smokes, the eye test tells you BYU is a tournament team, Gonzaga is a tournament team and Saint Mary’s is, too. That’s what coaches will tell you.”

The Zags came loaded and buried eight of their first 13.

The Cougars got out of the chute late but Emery and Seljaas carried the Cougars as brilliantly as a pair of rookies could. Emery finished 5 of 10 for 27 points. Seljaas made 3 of 7 and finished with 9.

Fisher didn’t launch until late. Too late. One of the greatest 3-point shooters in BYU history, Fischer struggled to find his range as Wiltjer zeroed in from start to finish.

Fischer hit his first of seven attempts from beyond the stripe with 8:30 remaining in the game to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 68-67. Before that make, he was 1 for 10 from the field. He finished 3 of 11 from the contest range.

Gonzaga’s Three Amigo bombers combined for 61. BYU’s trio had 51. That was the difference in the game. The Zags made 12 of 28 for 43 percent; the Cougars were 10 of 26 for 38 percent.

BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth (16 points) and Zag center Domantas Sabonis (18) kind of cancelled one another out. Few said the fact Sabonis made it through the first half without a foul, it allowed him to put Sabonis on Collinsworth, a big key for the Zag defense.

Still…

It came down to made bombs.

And this was a show.

“Both teams were fighting for their lives,” said Wiltjer. “A lot of people don’t see us as tournament teams. When it creates that kind of environment, it makes for a feeling of desperation out there. Both teams were playing so hard, we were fortunate to make enough plays down the stretch when we needed to. Hats off to them, they are a great team and we’re glad we got the win.”

Just like all three BYU-Gonzaga games this year, this was a real battle to the wire. It was classic basketball and some of the best matchups of the year, and it proved TV worthy once more Monday.

“This is one of the hardest games we’ve played. We just laid it out on the line,” said Wiltjer.

Asked if this BYU-Gonzaga series was evolving into a real rivalry, Wiltjer said it lacks a key element for that label: Hatred.

“I don’t know if it’s really a rivalry because in a rivalry you have to really hate the other side. Those guys are some nice kids. I mean I remember one time I was at the foul line and one of them said, ‘It’s Ok, Kyle, you’ve got this next time.’ They are nice guys, hats off to them for showing tremendous amount of character even after the game. They are just really respectful.”

Well, respect is what the Cougars hoped to achieve in Las Vegas, three wins that would place them in a position for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Once again, the Cougars could not finish this affair as winners, go out as champions.

It will be a long week awaiting their postseason fate back in Provo and even longer to get another crack at hoisting the WCC trophy.

EMAIL: dharmon@deseretnews.com.

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