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Top-ranked Gonzaga holds off BYU, 85-75

SHARE Top-ranked Gonzaga holds off BYU, 85-75
Our guys competed hard, they played hard but our execution needs to be better against a team like that. – BYU head coach Dave Rose

PROVO — On Monday, No. 1 Gonzaga ascended to the top spot of the national polls and for much of Thursday night’s game against BYU Thursday night, the Zags looked the part.

Gonzaga led from wire-to-wire, built a 19-point first-half lead, staved off a second-half rally and beat the Cougars 85-75 before a crowd of 18,987 at the Marriott Center.

For BYU, it marked the first time ever to host the No. 1 team.

The Cougars got to within six points with 2:02 remaining on a layup by Eric Mika, but it was as close as they would get in the waning moments.

"Our guys competed hard, they played hard but our execution needs to be better against a team like that," said BYU coach Dave Rose.

The Zags’ Nigel Williams-Goss poured in a game-high 33 points, while Johnathan Williams scored 12 and Josh Perkins added 11. Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1, 300-pound center, Przemek Karnowski, scored nine points and collected eight rebounds.

Every time BYU seized the momentum and made a run at Gonzaga, Williams-Goss answered over and over. He hit 12 of 18 shots from the field, was 7 of 7 from the free-throw line and grabbed seven rebounds.

"Williams-Goss kind of controlled that game," Rose said.

For BYU, TJ Haws scored 29 points, including four 3-pointers and Mika scored 15 to go along with 11 rebounds.

BYU guard Nick Emery, who has been dealing with an illness this week, came off the bench for the first time in his Cougar career while Elijah Bryant made his first start at BYU. Bryant scored 12 and Emery finished with two points in 20 minutes.

"He's a warrior," Haws said of Emery's effort. "I'm prod of the way he fought."

"NIck not feeling his best was an issue for us," Rose said.

The Cougars hit 6 of 20 3-pointers while the Bulldogs went 7 of 20. Gonzaga outrebounded BYU 46-34.

No. 1 Gonzaga improved to 23-0 overall and 11-0 overall while BYU dropped to 16-8 and 7-4.

The Cougars fell behind by double-digits in the first half and they spent the rest of the game trying to claw their way back.

"Gonzaga is a talented, deep team that keeps coming after you," Rose said.

Trailing by 16 at halftime, BYU turned on the intensity and aggression in the second half. The Cougars went on a 9-0 run that included a sequence that saw an Emery steal lead to a Haws 3-pointer. BYU cut the deficit to single digits, 45-37, with that spurt as the capacity crowd roared its approval.

But the Zags answered with a 13-3 run of their own — Williams-Goss scored nine straight points — to go back up 56-40 with a little more than 13 minutes left.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Haws brought the Cougars to within eight points again, 66-58, at the 7:08 mark.

BYU kept it close the rest of the way but wasn’t able to pull the upset.

Despite poor shooting, BYU hung around early against the Zags and trailed 9-8 five minutes into the game.

That’s when Gonzaga unleashed four 3-pointers over the next five minutes, including three by Josh Perkins, as part of a 20-4 run that saw the Bulldogs take control and jump out to a 29-12 advantage.

Mika struggled in the first half, hitting just 3 of 10 shots and missing an alley-oop dunk. At one point early on, Mika tripped over Bryant while trying to grab a rebound. It appeared that Mika tweaked his ankle and he went to the bench before returning moments later.

"In the first half, we got a lot of good looks, they just didn't fall for us," Haws said. "In the second half, they started falling."

The Zags led by as many as 19 in the first half and the Cougars looked overmatched.

"In the first half, Gonzaga had us spread out good and they made 6 of their first 10 3s," Rose said. "We did a better job of contesting their 3s."

BYU, which made just 4 of its first 14 shots, finished the half shooting 32 percent while Gonzaga shot 52 percent in the first half. The Zags led at intermission, 42-26.

"They competed even when they weren't individually playing their best," Rose said of his team. "That's a good sign for a young team trying to figure it out ... It was a hard-fought game."

The Cougars host Portland Saturday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv).