Alex Barcello drives against Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs on Feb. 8 in the Marriott Center. BYU fell short of the win against the No. 1-ranked Zags. (Hannah Miner)

BYU men’s basketball falls to No. 1 Gonzaga 82-71 at home

The BYU men’s basketball team was unable to recreate last year’s magical upset, losing 82-71 to No. 1 Gonzaga in the Marriott Center on Monday.

The Cougars moved to 15-5 on the season and 6-3 in West Coast Conference play with the loss.

Senior guard Alex Barcello had an exceptional game even in a loss, leading the Cougars with 20 points, four rebounds and five assists. Guards Brandon Averette and Spencer Johnson also joined Barcello in double digits, scoring 14 and 11 points respectively. Averette even managed to hit his 1,000th career point early in the game, a feat not achieved by many.

The Cougars turned over the ball a whopping 19 times, and in the words of head coach Mark Pope, any time you do that “against the No. 1 team in the country, you’re going to have some trouble.”

BYU looked shaky right from the start. The Zags managed to put up 15 points in just the first four minutes. The Cougars? Just two points. BYU looked like it didn’t even belong on the court with missed layups and errant passses out of bounds.

During a much-needed timeout, Pope was able to breathe some life back into his players. Junior center Richard Harward capped off an 8-4 Cougar run with a clean jumper, narrowing the gap to 19-10.

BYU head coach Mark Pope looks on from the bench during a game against Gonzaga on Feb. 8. Pope said he saw flashes of positive things against the Zags but also saw many things to improve upon against the No. 1 team in the nation. (Hannah Miner)

The run was short-lived, however, as Gonzaga stars Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme tag-teamed for the next several minutes, scoring several points to extend the Gonzaga lead to 14, 30-16, with 9:09 remaining in the first half.

When it looked like BYU would be left in the dust, something amazing happened. Barcello single-handedly carried the Cougars, scoring 10-straight points to bring the score to 36-26 with just 2:23 left in the half.

The team finally headed to the locker room down just 10 points, 41-31. Despite being down by double digits, the Cougars walked off the court with their heads held high. Most expected them to be down by much more.

“At the end of the first half, I thought our fight was where it should be,” Barcello said. “I felt like we were being as physical as we should be. We got some stops, we put some kills together and I definitely felt like we had some momentum going into the second half.”

True to form, the second half started without a hitch for both teams, as each scored nine points in the first four minutes to bring the score to 50-40. Barcello had four of those nine points for BYU, once again leading the way for the Cougars.

Alex Barcello takes a floater against Gonzaga on Feb. 8 in the Marriott Center. Barcello led BYU with 20 points against the Zags. (Hannah Miner)

But for the next few minutes, BYU looked to be shooting themselves in the foot. Every time the Cougars had an opportunity to draw nearer to the Zags, they choked. A missed shot here, a botched defensive stand there. 

The Bulldogs took advantage of the Cougars’ weak mentality, pulling the lead even further from BYU’s reach. In what seemed like just a few seconds, Gonzaga was up 68-49 with only 9:13 left to play.

The Cougars didn’t go quietly though. Averette hit another three on a fast break, narrowing the Zags’ lead to 72-58 with 5:25 remaining.

BYU continued to put on the pressure, getting the score as close as 78-69 in the final minute. But Gonzaga ultimately showed why it is the No. 1 in the country as the Zags knocked down their free throws with ease down the stretch.

In the end, it wasn’t meant to be. The Bulldogs beat the Cougars 82-71, remaining undefeated in league play and improving to an astonishing 19-0 on the season. 

“I thought I saw some flashes of positivity and some things where I was like, man, we’re not even close,” Pope said. “That’s what great teams do to you: they challenge every nook and cranny of who you are and what you’re doing. It’s a good marker for us to get better, and we have to get better.”

The Cougars will get a small break in games before heading to Stockton, California on Thursday, Feb. 18 to take on the Pacific Tigers.

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