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Gonzaga hangs on in 68-60 win over BYU

The Zags ended BYU’s three year run of upsets in Spokane by winning the battle in the trenches.

NCAA Basketball: Brigham Young at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

BYU has had Gonzaga’s number in Spokane over the last three seasons, but the Zags were dead set on changing the script this season and a 68-60 victory finally ended that ignominious streak.

Gonzaga was held to a season low 68 points and below 70 points for a second consecutive game, but it was still enough to get the job game. Rui Hachimura (15 points), Josh Perkins (14 points), and Johnathan Williams (13 points) reached double figures for the Zags. TJ Haws led all scorers with 22 points, but BYU’s bench failed to contribute a single point in defeat.

The Cougars, fresh off an upset loss to LMU, opened the game looking nothing like a team that was capable of losing to a WCC cellar-dweller. BYU adjusted its lineup by sliding Luke Worthington into a starting spot in an effort to match Gonzaga’s size inside, and looked to do damage in the paint immediately. Yoeli Childs opened the scoring with a strong dunk after Tillie fell down on the game’s opening possession, and he and Worthington combined for BYU’s first four baskets.

Not to be outdone, Gonzaga’s big men were more than up to the challenge and answered with their own flurry of baskets. Tillie, who was battling through the flu, made his presence felt early with nine points by the first media timeout. When Tillie tired, Williams and Hachimura were there to pick him up as BYU struggled to deal with Gonzaga’s depth of forwards. Corey Kispert got in on the act too, converting a pair of buckets on back-to-back possessions that demonstrated the difference in depth between the two squads.

Gonzaga fans were warned to expect a BYU team that played at a noticeably slower pace than in years past, but through the first 20 minutes it felt like old times as both teams were happy to run up and down the floor and weren’t shy about pulling a quick trigger. The quick tempo, however, seemed to favor the home team and by the end of the first half, Gonzaga had gained some separation to take a 36-26 lead at the break.

BYU went back to the Childs/Worthington formula at the start of the second half to claw back into the game and narrow the deficit as close as 39-41. As the night progressed, the pace of the game slowed as transition opportunities were few and far between.

Though it felt like Gonzaga was able to maintain control of the game throughout the entirety of the second half, the reduced pace assisted the Cougars in staying within striking distance. A comfortable lead never materialized for the Zags as BYU’s defense did well to prevent the home team from putting the game away.

That lack of killer instinct nearly came back to bite Gonzaga in the rear end, as Haws rediscovered the shooting shoes (because of course he did) he misplaced during BYU’s last two games. Despite Haws coming up with nine consecutive points for BYU in the closing minutes, a pair of costly turnovers in the final minute spelled the end of the Cougars’ three game winning streak in Spokane.