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Gonzaga defeats BYU, punches ticket to the NCAA Tournament

The Bulldogs weathered a late rally by BYU to clear up any doubt they would be playing in March.

Ethan Miller

For all the tears and fears that were this season, when it came down to it, the Gonzaga Bulldogs took care of business. They went into Las Vegas, squeaked by Santa Clara, destroyed Saint Mary's and then held off BYU in the WCC Tournament title game to garner an automatic bid and guarantee a 16th-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga came out firing on all cylinders and it looked like this one was going to be another tournament championship blowout. Gonzaga had a 21 point lead at one point, but like all big leads this season, it slowly started to dwindle away. The big difference this time around is that whenever BYU looked ready to make a big push, Gonzaga pushed right back.

Sam Dower was absolutely fantastic in his final WCC game of his collegiate career, finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Dower averaged over 18 points through the WCC Tournament and hit 21-of-24 from the free throw line. Fittingly so, he was named the tournament MVP.

It was a rough game for BYU, who looked absolutely disjointed on offense for a good portion. The only reason things got better is when an injury to Kyle Collinsworth seemed to breathe a bit of fire into the Cougars. That isn't exactly the sort of energy spark you want, as Collinsworth needed crutches to get off the court by the time the game ended.

BYU, for all of its crazy schedule, now sits on the bubble. By all reasonable accounts, the Cougars should be in the NCAA Tournament, but sometimes the selection committee makes some unreasonable decisions.

I'm going to leave the bullet points for another time when I have more time. For now, I'm going to relish another trip to the NCAA Tournament and commend the team on its effort this game. It wasn't always pretty and it wasn't always easy, but the Bulldogs won, plain and simple. Kevin Pangos is sure to be a popular piling point after this game where he took two shots, but he also ensured a victory towards the end of the game, hitting 11-of-14 free throws when the rest of the team couldn't hit one to save its life. Dower stepped up big while Karnowski sat out with some lousy fouls. This was a team effort that wins games and a steady team effort that didn't get rattled as BYU tried to charge back.

Last point, major accolades for the defense in the tournament. Against Santa Clara, Gonzaga was pretty terrible on the defensive end. Whatever Mark Few told the team it worked, because the Zags made it hell for Saint Mary's and BYU to score. If that defensive intensity is present in a couple of weeks, Gonzaga has a good chance to score a couple of upsets in the tournament.

At the beginning of the season, I didn't know what to think about where or how Gonzaga would end up. This team fought through adversity this year to get where it is at and deserves the NCAA Tournament berth through and through. Congratulations Zags nation, now lets party.