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Gonzaga holds off BYU to win the WCC Tournament

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The Zags got pushed, but they proved why they have been the best team in the nation since Day 1.

NCAA Basketball-WCC Tournament-BYU vs Gonzaga Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Have you exhaled yet? Perhaps let out some pent up frustration that built over the evening? You wouldn’t be the only one. After grabbing a rebound in a sea of outstretched arms with the final seconds ticking down, Corey Kispert let out a visceral yell as the Gonzaga Bulldogs completed a come from behind 88-78 win to pick up another WCC Championship and extend their win streak to a program record 30 games.

The BYU Cougars will feel like they let a golden opportunity slip away in the 88-78 after failing to capitalize on a near perfect first half with just 25 second half points.

Jalen Suggs cemented his place in Gonzaga lore with a championship performance on a championship stage. The freshman phenom led all scorers with 23 points while playing stifling defense in the second half to help push his team to victory.

Corey Kispert may want to forget the first 60 minutes of tournament action in this trip to Vegas after his cold perimeter shooting from the semifinal carried over into the beginning of the championship game, but the man who embodies everything it means to be a Zag came up big when the Zags had their backs against the wall.

Kispert and Suggs didn’t do it alone, of course. Joel Ayayi (18 points) was his usual steady self, keeping the Zags afloat on the offensive end in the first half and making all the plays away from the ball that help put W’s in the win column.

It’s not often that Timme goes through the first nine minutes of a game without scoring a single point or even attempting a shot. The sophomore center still made his presence felt with some passing that would make Przemek Karnowski shed a single tear of joy, but Timme’s absence of shot attempts highlighted the abnormal start that the Gonzaga offense experienced.

In a stunning first half, BYU looked like it had the nation’s best offense instead of Gonzaga. The Cougars had the Zags (who truly appeared to be sleepwalking on the defensive end) on their heels for the entirety of the opening half and seemed to make every shot they attempted—at 67% from the field and 69% from the three point line that’s not really hyperbole.

With the Cougars convincingly outplaying their opponents in every facet of the game, the Zags found themselves in the unfamiliar position of trailing by double digits. The 13-point margin that BYU enjoyed with under 8 minutes left in the first half was the largest deficit that Gonzaga has faced all season long (and the largest since the game at UNC back in December 2018). The Zags didn’t have any success cutting into that deficit over the remainder of the half either as they failed to string together defensive stops that could have sparked a run and reset the game.

Considering BYU’s first half dominance, it felt like a minor miracle that Gonzaga only trailed 53-41 at halftime. However, the perfect season felt like it was on life support.

One of the persistent questions that pundits have enjoyed posing about this Gonzaga squad was how it would fare when faced with adversity—you know, since it has blown the doors off just about every team it has played this season.

Well, here they were finally facing that sweet, sweet adversity. Turns out the Zags handle it just fine.

Gonzaga opened the second half with a 16-4 run that erased BYU’s cushion in just six minutes of action. That run was powered by Kispert rediscovering his shooting stroke and the Cougars rediscovering that you can, in fact, miss a shot in basketball.

As the Cougars were bricking everything they were making in the first half, they looked to be feeling the pressure of finishing the job of upsetting the No. 1 team in the country. However, after the major push they made to open the half, the Zags looked to be running low on juice to finish the comeback bid.

BYU regained some ground during the middle of the second half and stretched the lead back to nine points after Barcello converted a three-point play. That seemed to snap Gonzaga back into the game as a gritty Nembhard bucket on the low block, a Suggs three, and a three-point play from Kispert in transition on consecutive possessions cut the deficit back down to 68-67 with just over seven minutes left to play and set the stage for a thrilling finish to the game.

Both teams exchanged a few more baskets before Suggs made the end of the game “The Jalen Suggs Show” with a handful of monster buckets to put the upset out of reach and secure another WCC title for the Zags.

The Cougars gave everything they had and should enter the NCAA Tournament with some confidence. However, that special trait that the great teams possess belonged to only one team in this game—the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs. On to the dance.