It has been well noted that BYU was the last team to knock off the Zags, back in February of last season. For a while last night, it looked like it might happen again. Gonzaga finally got the nail biter everyone was waiting for, and they rose to the challenge to come away as undefeated WCC tourney champions. Now that the blood pressure has returned to normal, let’s take a look back at some important notes from last night’s contest.
1. After blowing the doors off Saint Mary’s in the semifinal game, Gonzaga looked a little shell-shocked by BYU’s hot start on offense. While the Cougars were playing really well and were red hot from the field, GU looked a little slow responding.
2. BYU finished the first half with 53 points on 67% shooting from the floor. They do deserve credit for playing up to Gonzaga’s level of offense, but it was the Zags’ defense (or lack thereof) that allowed BYU to go into the break with a 12 point lead. Porous defense allowed the Cougars to get virtually any shot they wanted in the opening 20 minutes.
3. One of the keys for BYU, especially on defense, was their size on the interior. Both Matt Haarms and Richard Harward presented matchup problems for the Zags, especially when Drew Timme was out of the game. That lack of size and depth could be one of Gonzaga’s few weak spots heading into the tournament.
4. Gonzaga finished the first half with just three fast break points. Being able to get out in transition is a huge part of this team’s offensive identity, and BYU was able to take that away for large periods in the game, which definitely helped them stay in it.
5. The Zags came out with a noticeable sense of urgency in the second half, and it was reflected in their offensive output. Corey Kispert’s trio of threes helped ignite the offense, and his energy helped carry the team back into the game.
6. After their explosive first half, BYU looked like they may have felt some pressure facing the No. 1 team in the country in the second. They weren’t hitting as many shots, and their pace slowed a bit on offense. However, the Cougars deserve major props for not folding and playing GU tough for a full 40 minutes.
7. This game finally proved to all those wondering how Gonzaga would fare when faced with serious in-game adversity. The Zags overcame both a double-digit halftime deficit and a close battle down the stretch against BYU, the only team that has beaten them in the last two years of conference play.
8. Joel Ayayi once again proved that he is the “glue guy” that every championship caliber team has. He finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds in his typical under the radar fashion, and his steady play and efficient shooting helped keep the team afloat even as they were falling behind.
9. It seems almost inevitable that Jalen Suggs will leave for the NBA after the season, and you can’t blame him. He is a special talent, and his competitiveness and leadership endear him to players, coaches, and fans alike. Hopefully his performance last night, particularly in the final minutes, is a preview of things to come in the following weeks.
10. It took a few minutes to sink in that last night was almost certainly Corey Kispert’s final conference game for the Zags. While he technically could return next season due to the NCAA’s modified eligibility for this year, he is almost certainly going pro. That being said, Kispert has epitomized being a Zag for the last four years, and we should all make sure to not take it for granted in his final (hopefully six) games for the Bulldogs.