The Gonzaga Bulldogs are kings of the WCC once again. The Zags clinched their 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance thanks to a 74-54 rout of the BYU Cougars that was not as close as the scoreline indicated.
Killian Tillie, who was named the WCC Tournament MVP, capped off a terrific week in Las Vegas with 22 points and 6 rebounds. Zach Norvell, who just missed out on a spot on the All-Tournament, posted 17-points. Double-double machine Johnathan Williams did make his way on to the All-Tournament squad and finished the night with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Josh Perkins nearly picked up a double-double of his own, finishing the evening with 11 points and 8 assists. Senior guard Silas Melson capped off his WCC career with a stingy defensive performance that set the tone for the rest of the team.
BYU’s Yoeli Childs finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds, but Elijah Bryant continued his struggles against Gonzaga with 11 points on 5-14 shooting.
Gonzaga’s first shot attempt of the game resulted in a Killian Tillie missed shot at the rim, a rare occurrence at the WCC Tournament this year. And while Tillie allayed any concern that the magic had run out by nailing a three-pointer on his next shot attempt to extend his tournament streak to 11 (and overall to 12), he finally launched a three that didn’t find the bottom of the net.
Despite the miss, Tillie wasn’t cooling down very much and neither was Norvell who picked up where he left off against San Francisco on Monday night by nailing a trio of threes inside the first seven minutes of the game to further establish his burgeoning first-half scoring prowess.
The tempo in the early minutes of the game was played at the quick pace that favored Gonzaga throughout the year. So in their third try against the Zags this season, the Cougars made a concerted effort to pump the brakes in an effort to keep the Zags from literally running away with the game. With BYU trying to slow down the game to limit transition opportunities, the Zags embraced the defensive battle that the Cougars were daring them to play.
Gonzaga turned up the dial on its intensity at the defensive end, rotating quickly to close down BYU’s shooters and team rebounding to control the boards (BYU failed to grab a single offensive rebound in the first half). The Cougars soon came to the realization that regardless of what style of game they tried to play, the Zags were going to find a way to beat them at it. A quick 11-2 Gonzaga run at the end of the first half only served to highlight just how difficult it is to reign in the WCC’s best team for more than a few minutes at a time, and saw BYU go into the break trailing 38-29.
If Dave Rose had any hope that the halftime break would slow down Gonzaga, that hope quickly faded as Tillie and Williams went right back to work in the second half to stretch their lead to 13 points and prompted Rose to burn a timeout just two minutes into the half. The timeout didn’t help much, as Gonzaga stretched its lead to 20 points while holding BYU scoreless for the first five minutes of the second half. From that point on BYU’s emphasis shifted to simply avoiding an ugly blowout. That, err, umm, didn’t work out so well.
Gonzaga’s defense put on a master class, extinguishing the Cougars will to play by holding them to four points through the first 10 minutes of the second half. While the Zags stifled BYU on one end, their offense played with a joie de vivre that turned the remainder of the game into a joyful coronation as the WCC’s deserved champion once again.
Other than a momentary lapse in judgment when the Zags collectively stopped playing defense for two minutes to enjoy their 32-point lead, Mark Few will have little to criticize when he watches this tape.
Gonzaga put on a show, much to the delight of their raucous fans at Orleans Arena, and put the rest of the college basketball world on notice that the WCC’s Champion is ready to dance once again.