By John Marshall Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga has been the class of the West Coast Conference, regular hoisting regular-season and tournament trophies for nearly two decades.
Even for a team such as this, finishing off another title sweep is a feel-good accomplishment.
Sam Dower Jr. had 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Gonzaga held its ground during a second-half rally to beat BYU 75-64 Tuesday night for its 13th WCC championship.
“It never gets old. Never gets old,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It’s obviously something we start talking about it and prepare for way back in the summer. For these guys to step up and make it happen, not only in the regular season but to win here and not share, is just an awesome, awesome accomplishment.”
Gonzaga (28-6) raced out to a 21-point lead in the first half, taking advantage of the Cougars’ late overtime game the night before. Once the Cougars got their legs and started chipping away at the lead, the Bulldogs had an answer, leaving no doubt about the NCAA tournament by earning the conference’s automatic bid.
Gary Bell Jr. had 14 points and David Stockton dished out seven assists to send the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament for the 16th straight year.
“We came in with the mindset and us controlling being in the tournament,” Stockton said. “We didn’t try to think about that, just winning the next game.”
BYU (23-11) rallied after a dismal first half, pulling within eight with 3 minutes left. The Cougars couldn’t finish off the comeback and now have a long five-day wait until Selection Sunday.
Tyler Haws had 24 points and Kyle Collinsworth added 13 before leaving with a right leg injury in the second half.
“They really went after us at the start,” coach Dave Rose said. “But our guys battled. We battled the whole game, got it to single digits, but couldn’t get over the hump.”
Gonzaga and BYU split two meetings during the regular season.
The Zags won the first one by 15 after hitting 10 of 22 3-pointers in Spokane. The Cougars were much better guarding the perimeter in Provo, limiting the Bulldogs to 4 of 18 shooting from 3-point range.
Playing in its 17th straight WCC final, Gonzaga dominated early in the rubber match with a nearly perfect first half.
Offensively, the Bulldogs built a quick nine-point lead and kept pouring it on behind Dower, who had 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the first half.
Gonzaga was just as good defensively, contesting shots inside and getting out to BYU’s shooters on the perimeter. The Cougars struggled against the Bulldogs’ pressure, missing 11 of their first 15 shots on their way to a 9-for-27 half.
Gonzaga led by as much as 21 in the first half and was up 44-27 at the break.
“From a coaching standpoint, that’s how you want your guys this time of year,” Few said. “It’s the biggest stage thus far and we were in attack mode, we were playing great defense.”
Dower kept it rolling early in the second half, scoring on a hard drive with a foul, then throwing down a pair of dunks to put the Bulldogs up 53-33.
BYU suffered another blow when Collinsworth had to be helped off the court midway through the second half, unable to put any weight on his right leg after going down under Gonzaga’s basket.
Playing without its facilitator and second-leading scorer, the Cougars found a way to claw their way back.
Haws has had trouble getting shots to fall in the WCC tournament and had a so-so first half, scoring nine points on 2-for-7 shooting. When his shots started to fall in the second half, so did Gonzaga’s lead.
Haws hit a 3-pointer in rhythm to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 13 and the Cougars kept chipping away at the lead, getting it down to eight on two free throws by Haws with 2:56 left.
That was it for BYU, though, leaving the Cougars to wait to see if the selection committee believes their resume is good enough for an NCAA tournament bid.
“I think we should find ourselves in that tournament,” said Haws, who made all 11 of his free throws after hitting all 14 in the semifinals against San Francisco. “This has been a challenging season, but I feel like our guys have come together and done enough to get in.”