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BYU was ‘off-the-charts tougher’ than No. 2 Gonzaga in raucous upset, Zags coach says

The Bulldogs and coach Mark Few credited No. 23 BYU for ‘taking it to us’ in every phase of the game at the sold-out Marriott Center in battle of ranked teams

SHARE BYU was ‘off-the-charts tougher’ than No. 2 Gonzaga in raucous upset, Zags coach says
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Brigham Young Cougars guard Jake Toolson (5) yells during the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

PROVO — It didn’t take Gonzaga coach Mark Few long at all to describe when his No. 2-ranked Zags lost control of the showdown with BYU on Saturday night at the sold-out Marriott Center.

“The (opening) tip,” Few said.

Big, bad Gonzaga is rarely dominated in the physicality department, but that’s what happened in front of 18,987 mostly delirious Cougar fans, the coach said, as No. 23 BYU rolled past GU 91-78 in the first matchup of ranked teams in Provo since Jimmer Fredette scored 43 points to lead No. 9 BYU past No. 4 San Diego State 71-58 in January of 2011.

“If you are not the toughest team, you are putting yourself in position to lose the game. So, they deserve all the credit, man.” — Gonzaga coach Mark Few

“I mean, they were just playing with much more spirit, and much more passion, and they were off-the-charts tougher than we were,” said Few, whose team dropped to 27-2 overall, 13-1 in West Coast Conference play. “We got out-toughed in every phase of the game tonight.”

Unlike when the Zags ripped the Cougars 92-69 last month in Spokane, BYU star Yoeli Childs played in the rematch, and Gonzaga had no answer for him. On Senior Night, Childs scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in just 29 minutes, due to foul trouble.

“If you are not the toughest team, you are putting yourself in position to lose the game,” Few said. “So, they deserve all the credit, man. They came after us on offense, they came out after us on defense, physically taking the ball from us (at times). So, we didn’t deserve to win.”

Four Zags reached double figures, as Killian Tillie led the way with 18, followed by Corey Kispert with 16, Filip Petrusev with 14 and Admopn Gildre with 13. Tillie fouled out, even though BYU was whistled for 21 fouls to GU’s 15.

“They were tougher and outplayed us,” Petrusev said. “We let them outplay us and they beat us.”

Petrusev said BYU surprised the Zags with its physicality after not putting up much of a fight in Spokane.

“Yeah, I mean, we knew they were going to come in, swipe at the ball, throw some punches around. Like, they always do that,” he said. “We walked in kind of like, softly. ... We beat them easily at home, so it was kind of a surprise, yeah.”

Asked if BYU was literally throwing punches, Petrusev clarified: “Well, they make plays, like really, really physical, to a point where it is a foul most of the time. The referees let them play … hey kinda let the contact and physicality (go). They are really, really physical.”

Kispert credited BYU for being the tougher team.

“Credit them for coming out ready to play and definitely there will be a lot of lessons learned the next time we see them,” he said.

When BYU seniors Childs, TJ Haws (16 points, 8 assists) and Jake Toolson (17 points, 6 assists), were asked to sum up how they won in one word, simultaneously, Childs and Toolson said “toughness” and Haws said “fight.”

All three said the huge crowd deserves credit as well (students stormed the court for the first time since the SDSU win), but Few and Kispert termed it a non-factor.

“No, it is white noise, man,” Kispert said. “It more gets them going than rattles us, I think.”

The Cougars were 11 of 27 from 3-point range, with Toolson draining a couple in the Jimmer range.

“We told our guys and talked about it in practice. We said, ‘Toolson has been shooting the ball really deep.’ Again, some of our guys just didn’t heed the warning,” Few said.

Regarding the crowd, Few said past GU teams have handled the raucous atmosphere well, with the Zags having won the last five in Provo before Saturday.

“It was a great environment,” he said. “All of our other teams have been so excited to play in here that they have played great. So hey, we have had a great run. We had one bad one, so we will just move on.”

Kispert, Petrusev and Few all said BYU is a different team with Childs on the court, with Kispert saying the Zags need to have a better plan if they see BYU in a few weeks at the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.

“He’s a great player,” Few said. “He is one of the best players on the West Coast. You gotta bring a lot of different coverages towards him. He puts a lot of foul pressure on you. He wasn’t the reason why we didn’t play tough, though. Our guards didn’t play tough, either. Our forwards didn’t, our bigs didn’t. 

“He was a load tonight, and we knew he was going to be.”