Game Notes: Gonzaga vs. BYU
Gonzaga hung tough—for 30 minutes.
by Cub Buenning
When the brackets were released this past Sunday night, the Denver region was not lauded as one of the more desirable ones to cover. Most experts were not excited by the teams invited and with No. 1 and 2s involved, the game’s legendary programs were nowhere to be found. Two schools, however, stood out as not only two of the most exciting teams to watch over the past few years, but also ones that have been under the Cub Scouts microscope for a long time. But, BYU and Gonzaga came into the Tournament on different ends of the momentum spectrum.
The Cougars, obviously, enjoyed their best season ever (in terms of total wins), that is until the Brandon Davies fiasco sidelined their best rebounder and interior defender. Gonzaga, on the other hand, struggled out of the gates, lost a few non-Saint Mary’s conference games for the first time in years before righting the ship and ripping off an impressive February and March. Currently, the Zags may be playing better than any team in the nation, period. (A fact that the selection committee must have missed when they anointed the Spokane (WA) institution an 11-seed.)
Thursday night, while BYU had a tough game with Wofford, which they ultimately put away in the final minutes, Gonzaga was impressive from the opening tip against St. John’s, routing the Johnnies. Saturday night, the two teams met to “plant a seed” for a potential rivalry, as BYU will begin playing in the West Coast Conference next season.
From the opening tip, there was passion, pace and plenty of screaming fans, as both schools were represented well. The crowd was loud and active at every bounce of the ball. A Final Four feel was present.
The game’s first ten minutes were a back-and-forth affair with each briefly enjoying small leads (in fact, the lead changed hands nine times in that period). But soon thereafter, the Cougars made the first real run of the game with a deep Jimmer Fredette 3-pointer capping a 9-2 run, giving BYU a 31-24 advantage.
Jimmer was at it again a few minutes later, as a high-speed, soaring 3-pointer by the nation’s leading scorer gave the Cougars a nine-point lead with about a minute remaining (their biggest of the half).
The second half started even worse for Gonzaga as they turned the ball over on their first two possessions. The Zags’ offensive struggles were coupled with BYU scoring on their first four possessions, resulting in a 7-point halftime advantage quickly becoming a 14, then a 17-point lead. As usual, Gonzaga was dominating the painted area, but their guards really struggled against the sagging BYU zone. Five minutes into the second half, the four Gonzaga guards were a combined 2-15 from the field and had shown little of the play that was on display just two nights prior.
As should be expected with teams of this caliber, the Zags did make their run turning the 17-point difference quickly into an 8-point game at 63-55 and still 12 minutes remaining.
But, that was as close as things would get. Frustration was visible on the Gonzaga players. When they weren’t turning the ball over, they were missing easy buckets around the hoop. And despite dominating the offensive glass, the Zags could rarely turn those second chances into actual points.
Usually an offensive-attacking team, on this night, the Cougars won with defense. Yes, they were dominated on the backboards and gave up 12 offensive rebounds, but their on-ball pressure coupled with timely perimeter shooting was the difference in the 89-67 win.
Oh, and Jimmer? While his 32/5/8 game of two days earlier was largely considered, “quiet,” there could be no mistaking how his 34 points and 6 assists impacted the lopsided final score.
The largely pro-BYU crowd put a cap on the evening with a “YOU GOT JIMMER’D” chant.
I am not sure what that means, but yes, Gonzaga most certainly did.