For a BYU team mired in a losing streak, trying to find its identity, and searching for answers, what happened Saturday night at the Marriott Center certainly didn’t help matters.
Then again, it would be near impossible to fix what ails the reeling Cougars against a team like No. 2 Gonzaga, which just might end up winning the national championship.
“They’re the best team in the country,” said coach Mark Pope.
BYU’s loyal and loud student section, many of whom camped two nights outside the Marriott Center in anticipation of this matchup, didn’t have a lot to cheer about on this night.
The Cougars gave them some hope, scoring the first five points of the game. But that was followed by a 27-4 Zags run. And, at that point, the game was essentially over.
In the end, Gonzaga eviscerated BYU 90-57 before a crowd of nearly 19,000.
It marked the Zags’ 12 straight win overall and 29th consecutive West Coast Conference victory.
The Cougars’ losing streak extended to four games.
BYU fell to 17-8 overall and 5-5 in the WCC. Gonzaga improved to 19-2 and 8-0.
The Zags’ 7-foot-1 freshman, Chet Holmgren, filled up the box score, pouring in a game-high 20 points, pulling down 17 rebounds, dishing out six assists and blocking five shots.
“He’s pretty special. He’s the presumptive No. 1 pick in the NBA draft for a reason. And he’s actually showing better than that,” Pope said of Holmgren. “He’s shooting 64% from the 3-point line. He’s owning all the space around the rim. It can be really frustrating getting downhill and then he cleans up all the mistakes … I think he’s maybe a generational player in terms of how unique he is. He’s proving it every night now.”
Four other Zags scored in double figures as Julian Strawther finished with 19 points, Andrew Nembhard had 15, and Drew Timme and Rasir Bolton contributed 13 points each.
Making matters worse Saturday for BYU, it was without senior guard Te’Jon Lucas, who did not play due to injury. Lucas suffered a slight concussion and is dealing with soreness after a player fell on his head, neck and shoulder during the San Francisco game.
Pope said Lucas was held out of the game as a precaution.
Seneca Knight got the start in place of Lucas and he finished with 13 points on 3 of 15 shooting from the floor. Gideon George finished with a team-high 14 points, including 3 of 5 from 3-point territory.
Alex Barcello scored nine points, on 4 of 14 shooting from the field, including 1 of 7 from 3-point range, to go along with five assists. Caleb Lohner grabbed a team-high nine rebounds but was just 1 of 7 from the floor.
While Gonzaga shot 53% as a team, BYU shot just 29.6%. The Cougars made just 6 of 26 3-point attempts.
The Cougars didn’t hit the 30-point mark until 16:49 left in the second half. The Zags outscored BYU in the paint, 44-22, and in fastbreak points, 21-5.
“They’re the best team in the country,” — BYU coach Mark Pope on Gonzaga
Pope said there were “a lot of reasons” for BYU’s offensive struggles.
“Tonight we had a really tough time getting downhill. We were a little bit timid. Our pace has gone away,” Pope said. “It’s complicated without (Lucas) because he’s such a primary ball handler for us and he’s able to create so much for Alex. We’re able to go through him and create different looks for Alex.”
Gonzaga led by as many as 38 points (74-38) before the Cougars showed some life by going on an 11-0 run.
For the first 1:15 of the game, BYU looked good, taking an early 5-0 lead. But that was short-lived.
Gonzaga responded by scoring 12 straight points, and it was just getting started.
The Zags were dominant on both ends of the floor and led by as many as 30 (47-17) in the first half. Holmgren was unstoppable, finishing the half with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
While the Cougars made just 5 of their first 22 shots, Gonzaga drilled 12 of their first 16.
The Zags outshot BYU 57%-25% and outrebounded the Cougars 25-16 in the first half. BYU trailed at halftime, 47-23.
The Cougars turned in a better performance in the second half in terms of the score, but by then, the outcome wasn’t in doubt.
“They’re really good in every way. Terrific showing by them,” Pope said of Gonzaga. “We’ll continue to be a work in progress, trying to get better.”
BYU visits Loyola Marymount Thursday.
TIP-INS: Former BYU quarterback, and current New York Jet, Zach Wilson, and former Cougar wide receiver and current Washington Commander, Dax Milne, attended Saturday’s game.