No. 23 BYU men’s basketball overcame the pressure to hand No. 2 Gonzaga its second overall loss this season in a historic win.
The Zags had many streaks coming into this matchup — they have won 40 consecutive WCC games, held a 19-game winning streak, boasted an 18-game win streak on the road and won the last six matchups versus BYU.
But tonight BYU beat Gonzaga in a 91-78 win in the Marriott Center, the Cougars’ final home game this season. BYU also celebrated its Senior Night, honoring the seniors who have each made an impact in their own ways.
The seniors’ impact on the team can’t be overstated. Forward Yoeli Childs scored 28 points, adding 10 rebounds to lead all scorers on the floor. Guard Jake Toolson added 17 points, going five for nine from behind the arc, proving why he’s the No. 4 three-point shooter in the country. Senior point guard TJ Haws added 16 points with four rebounds and eight assists to aid.
Head coach Mark Pope said he is proud of how his veteran players handled the pressure.
“One of the great things about having a veteran team is that our guys understand it’s hard every single night,” Pope said. “Our guys have been emotionally fatigued and physically fatigued and banged up and changing lineups and guys getting hurt and they were still dialed in enough to get the job done.”
The Zags started the scoring with a jumper from Corey Kispert, but BYU’s Haws answered back with a jumper of his own. The score was only 6-4 in BYU’s favor five minutes into the game, with both teams finding trouble getting to the basket. Within those five minutes were back-to-back charge calls against the Zags and a steal, all from TJ Haws.
Out of a timeout, the Zags pushed ahead after two-consecutive three’s from Admon Gilder, moving Gonzaga ahead 12-6. But the Cougars stopped Gonzaga’s momentum with two free throws, a layup from Haws and a tip-in from Gavin Baxter.
After the Zags went ahead 16-12, a three from Toolson brought the Cougars back within one. Gonzaga answered Toolson’s three with a field goal of its own, but Haws responded with a jumper.
The two teams went back and forth for a few minutes until Childs’ jumper put BYU ahead 19-18. Gaining momentum, Childs hit another jumper, putting the Cougars ahead 21-18. While Gonzaga hit a three to tie the game, Toolson hit three of his own to put BYU ahead 24-21, forcing Gonzaga head coach Mark Few to call his first timeout of the night.
BYU continued to feed the momentum a few minutes later when Zac Seljaas hit a wide-open three to put BYU ahead 27-25. BYU then made a defensive stop, came down the court and scored off a drive from Haws. Gonzaga, in turn, answered with a three, but BYU’s Baxter answered on the other side of the court with a putback layup, bringing the score to 31-28.
The score was 38-32 two minutes later after Childs sunk a three with five seconds on the shot clock. Gonzaga then turned the ball over, but BYU couldn’t capitalize. On the defensive end, BYU fouled Gonzaga’s Kispert on a three-point attempt, bringing the score back to 38-35 after the made free throws.
BYU wasn’t troubled by the foul call as the Cougars answered with back-to-back threes from seniors Toolson and Haws, giving BYU it’s biggest lead of the game at 44-36. After a pull-up jumper from Haws, the Cougars went into halftime with an eight-point lead over the Zags with a score of 46-38.
Going into the half, BYU outscored Gonzaga from the field, shooting 51.4% while the Zags shot 45.8%. While BYU’s scoring was impressive, head coach Pope always stresses that defense wins games. In the first half, BYU out-rebounded the Zags 18 to 15, which may not seem that notable, but made a significant impact on the court.
“Our guys were unanimously up and down,” Pope said. “And if you want to have a chance to play with the best team in America, which I think the Zags are, and if you want to have a chance to play with them, then you better play, better be dialed in on every single possession. The guys really, really tried.”
The Cougars started the second half scoring with a layup from Childs, but Gonzaga answered with two-consecutive layups from Killian Tillie. After a Haws pull-up jumper and a Gonzaga turnover, Toolson hit a deep three to give BYU its biggest lead of the game at 53-42. Toolson was four for eight from behind the arc at this point, a step-up from his last few games.
Sophomore big man Kolby Lee showed his value over the next minutes, grabbing a contested rebound, scoring a floater and sinking a three.
Within a single minute of this, the Zags rallied five points off a three and a layup to bring them back within eight points at 58-50 with 15 minutes left in the second half. The Zags capitalized on holes in BYU’s defense and turnovers from the Cougars’ offense.
The Zags then remained within eight points for the next four minutes, despite another three-pointer and two free throws from Toolson. BYU got into foul trouble over the next four minutes with four starters having three or more fouls.
Gonzaga continued to gain momentum after foul calls went its way. With only 10 minutes left in regulation, Lee had four fouls, while Childs, Seljaas and Alex Barcello all had three.
With only seven minutes left in regulation, the Zags were down by two at 70-68 after aggressive plays at the basket and forced fouls. In the previous two minutes, BYU failed to score while Gonzaga made three field goals and a free throw. Also at this point, BYU only had five second-half rebounds while Gonzaga had grabbed 17.
Barcello sank a three with four minutes and 42 seconds left, but BYU and its fans were soon angry again after a wrongful foul call came against BYU. The Cougar seniors had seen this pressure before and Haws answered the bell with another three to put BYU up 85-76 with four minutes left.
Gonzaga attempted to push back in the game’s final minutes but didn’t succeed. The Zags only scored two more points to finish the game while BYU scored six. BYU finally ended the six-game losing streak against the Zags, which proved important because both teams currently have national rankings.
With time winding down on the clock, Childs slammed the ball to solidify BYU’s miraculous victory.
The Cougars shot 53.2% from the field overall and 40.7% from three, while the Zags shot 41.7% from the field and 20.0% from three. Typically Gonzaga dominates on both sides of the ball, but BYU took total control of the game, leading every category but free-throw percentage and rebounds.
Toolson commented on the team’s shooting night and how it all came down to trusting his teammates to do their job.
“I think with this team, we just keep putting in the work and keep trusting each other to take the right shots,” Toolson said. “I knew that we had a special team and that we had a chance to do something. My confidence has grown and the things that we’ve been through as a team have really taught me and showed me what this team is about.”
Looking forward, BYU could possibly have a chance to meet Gonzaga again come March in the finals of the WCC tournament. Since BYU is No. 2 in the WCC and Gonzaga is No. 1, there is a possibility the Cougars could play the Zags in this championship game, assuming both teams win their semifinal match.
Childs said he was trying to be in the moment after the game but just couldn’t help thinking of BYU’s future potential.
“That was just unbelievable,” Childs said. “Just the fight we had. I know I’m trying to be in the moment, but this team has such big goals that I can’t help but think how encouraging that is for our future, for making the run that we want to make and do the things that we want to do.”
But the future doesn’t matter, at least for this weekend as BYU fans everywhere celebrate the historic win against the Zags. Fans have been waiting six seasons for BYU to beat Gonzaga again in the Marriott Center — now the wait is over.