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No. 2 Gonzaga turned in a nearly flawless offensive performance against BYU

Some thought the Cougars would have to play a perfect game to have any hope of beating Gonzaga. It was the Zags who played an almost perfect game.

Gonzaga guard Andrew Nembhard (3) dunks in front of BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. Gonzaga won 110-84.
Young Kwak, AP

SPOKANE — Going into Thursday night’s game at The Kennel, some thought BYU would have to play a perfect game to have any hope of knocking off No. 2 Gonzaga.

But who would have guessed that the Zags would play an almost perfect offensive game against the Cougars?

Gonzaga shot 69% from the field, and easily surpassed the century mark with a little less than seven minutes remaining, in a 110-84 thumping of BYU.

It tied for the Cougars’ most lopsided loss in the Mark Pope era. BYU also lost by 26 points against USC last season.

BYU entered the night giving up just 63.1 points per game this season while the Zags were averaging 87.9 points.

What went wrong for the Cougars? And what went right for Gonzaga?

“A lot of things. We made a conscious decision, in game-planning, that we were going to do everything we could to try and protect 2-point land, especially around the rim,” Pope said. “And they shot 10 of 15 from the 3-point line in the first half. That’s what a great team does.”

The Zags led by as many as 19 in the first half and extended that advantage to as many as 34 in the second half, when they shot 71.4%.

Four Gonzaga players scored in double figures — Drew Timme (30), Andrew Nembhard (22), Julian Strawther (20), and Chet Holmgren (12). Timme was 13 of 14 from the floor, Strawther was 7 of 10, Nembhard was 8 of 13 and Holmgren was 5 of 7.

“There are so many issues that they cause for teams. We tried to make an adjustment in the second half, and they shoot 1 of 6 from the 3-point line and make every single shot inside the 3,” Pope said. “They’re a really talented team, and really well-coached. We had no answers for Timme in the ball screen action.”

Gonzaga, meanwhile, had answers for every BYU defensive scheme and adjustment the Cougars threw at the Zags.

“(Timme) was good against our double team,” Pope said. “He was good in transition. We just didn’t have an answer.”

Consider this — the Cougars scored 84 points, hit 13 three-pointers, but still lost by 26.

Even Gonzaga coach Mark Few couldn’t believe what he saw from his team.

“We were awesome on offense, we really, really were. Some of the lines are just incredible. To shoot 69% for the game is incredible, obviously 52% from 3 was huge,” Few said. “Just an awesome performance on offense and I really thought one of the big keys was our defense settled in in the second half and was much better, because they torched us pretty good in the first half … Nineteen assists and no turnovers with Andrew and Rasir (Bolton) is amazing. Literally everybody that got in the game did what we asked them to do and wanted them to do.”

The Zags scored 28 points off of BYU’s 14 turnovers and they outscored the Cougars in the paint, 54-34. They also had 25 fastbreak points.

“Our pace after makes and misses was good, ball movement, understanding where the mismatches were,” Nembhard said. “Everybody was just clicking together. One of those nights.”

Less than a week ago, BYU limited Saint Mary’s to 43 points in a victory over the Gaels in Provo. After that game, Pope said the difference between Saint Mary’s style and Gonzaga’s style would be “like polar opposites.” And he was right.

The Zags scored their 44th point with 5:29 remaining in the first half. And they were just getting started.

BYU made 1 of 13 3-pointers against Saint Mary’s and drilled 13 of 36 against the Zags.

Alex Barcello led the Cougars with 19 points, including four 3-pointers, and Caleb Lohner added 17.

It was a tough learning experience for BYU.

“We’ve got to guard. We’ve got to find ways to take away shots,” Lohner said. “You can’t give up easy buckets at the rim. We need to overall be a better defensive team.”

Wanting to avoid a slow start, BYU seized an early 7-0 lead from the outset. That was followed by a 10-0 run by Gonzaga.

A little later, the Cougars enjoyed a 12-4 scoring spree to take its final lead of the game, 22-20.

That’s when the Zags outscored BYU 29-8 over the next seven-plus minutes to go ahead 46-27. It was this kind of first half — the Cougars nailed 10 3-pointers and yet trailed by 12 at intermission. Gonzaga also made 10 3s over the opening 20 minutes.

At halftime, the Zags led 61-49. It marked the highest-scoring first half in college basketball since January, 2020, when Winthrop led Hampton 58-53, according to Ken Pomeroy.

As good as Gonzaga was in the first half, the Bulldogs were even more efficient in the second.

The Zags (13-2, 2-0) handed BYU (14-4, 2-1) its first West Coast Conference loss of the season in its first WCC road game.

The last time BYU surrendered 100-plus points in a game was in 2018, when it lost to Utah in overtime in 2019. Before that, the Cougars gave up 113 in a setback at Weber State, in regulation, in 2018.

BYU visits San Francisco Saturday. The Dons walloped Loyola Marymount 97-73 Thursday night.

TIP-INS: Gonzaga has now won nine of the last 10 meetings against BYU … The Zags own the nation’s longest home win streak, which is now 61 games. Their last home loss came against Saint Mary’s in 2018 … Going into Thursday’s game, Gonzaga had not trailed in the previous 158 minutes, 47 seconds of game play. In Gonzaga’s nine home games this season (360 minutes), the Zags trailed for 4 minutes, 23 seconds. BYU led Gonzaga for four minutes, 12 seconds on Thursday.