LAS VEGAS — No. 3 seed BYU men’s basketball fell to No. 2 seed Gonzaga 88-84 in an extremely competitive West Coast Conference tournament semifinal game Monday night.
“I thought both teams played really hard,” said BYU head coach Dave Rose. “You could tell there was a lot on the line, the effort that both teams gave.”
The Bulldogs took an early lead, but the Cougars responded in a constant back-and-forth battle. BYU trailed Gonzaga by as many as 10 points in the first half, but tied things up at 47-47 at halftime.
BYU took its first and only lead of the game at 50-47 to open the second half. But the Cougars couldn’t catch a break, missing open shots and turning the ball over.
“To be a championship team, you need to take advantage of the opportunities,” Rose said.
The Cougars battled back, trailing one point 68-67 with 8:36 left in the game. But every time the Cougars posed a threat, the Bulldogs consistently connected with the hoop.
Senior forward Kyle Wiltjer led Gonzaga with 29 points en route to the Zags’ victory.
With 27 points in tonight’s game, BYU freshman guard Nick Emery passed former Cougar Shawn Bradley for second-most points scored by a BYU freshman. Emery scored 518 points as a freshman while Danny Ainge holds the record with 632 points.
Senior guard Kyle Collinsworth added a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while senior guard Chase Fischer contributed 15 points.
Collinsworth said he couldn’t ask to play in a better environment than in with the deafening BYU and Gonzaga crowds.
“Those atmospheres are special, you’ll always remember those,” Collinsworth said. “It’s rare to play in any type of atmosphere like that, so try to cherish it and give it all you have while you’re out there.”
All three BYU-Gonzaga regular season and post-season contests were decided by four or less points, with the highest scoring game occurring in Las Vegas.
“I’m proud to be their coach and I hope we can still play together again,” Rose said.
BYU will likely be going on to play in the NIT. The NIT selection show is Sunday, March 13.
The Bulldogs advance to play No. 1 Saint Mary’s in the WCC championship game. The Zags have played in the WCC championship every season since Mark Few was named head coach (1999). Tipoff is Tuesday, March 8 at 7 p.m. (MST).