LAS VEGAS, March 7, (AP): Gonzaga seemed headed for a dog fight with BYU to get a sixth straight West Coast Conference title. Once the Bulldogs started soaring, there was no stopping them.
Racing out for dunks and 3-pointers in transition, No. 6 Gonzaga overwhelmed BYU during a massive run to blow out the Cougars 74-54 on Tuesday night for its sixth straight WCC tournament title.
“That’s probably as good a run I’ve been a part of in 28 years at Gonzaga, definitely in 19 years as head coach,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Fantastic defense that led to great offense. It was just a thing of beauty to see.”
Gonzaga (30-4), the regular-season champion, locked into a defensive battle with BYU (24-10) for most of the first half. The Zags revved it up at both ends and turned it into a title-game rout, reeling off a halftime-spanning 36-6 run to win their 17th WCC overall title.
Killian Tillie had 22 points, Zach Norvell Jr. added 17 and the Bulldogs held BYU to 35 percent shooting to win their 17th straight conference tournament game.
The dominant title performance should boost Gonzaga’s chances for a high NCAA Tournament seed and possibly a go-out-on-top end to the Zags’ dominance in the WCC — Gonzaga is in talks to join the Mountain West Conference, possibly next season.
“Tonight, they were a handful for us,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “It’s tough when things get that lopsided. It’s really tough when they get it going like that.”
Yoeli Childs had 20 points to cap a stellar tournament for BYU.
Heading into the tournament, Gonzaga appeared to be on course for another showdown with No. 22 Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game.
The Zags, the tournament’s top seed, did their part, beating Loyola Marymount and San Francisco to reach the title game for the 21st straight season.
BYU got in the way of the No. 2-seeded Gaels. The Cougars shot 61 percent and Childs had a career-high 33 points, lifting them to an 85-72 victory and into the title game for the first time since 2015. Gonzaga won both meetings during the regular season, by eight in Spokane and 14 in Provo.
BYU was able to match Gonzaga shot for shot for most of a first half dominated by defense. The Zags found a little more room to operate offensively late in the half, closing on an 11-2 run to go up 38-29.
“For the first 17, 18 minutes, it was a real battle,” said BYU’s Payton Dastrup, who had 11 points. “They seemed to flip a switch and create some havoc.”
Childs had 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the first half, making all three of his 3-point attempts. The rest of the Cougars: 5 for 20.
Gonzaga continued its surge to open the second half, holding BYU without a field goal the opening 5 minutes while going on a 11-1 run. The Zags kept pouring it on, pushing the lead to 57-31. “It was a thing of beauty to see,” Few said.
BYU seemed worn out in its third game in four days, unable to keep up with the flying Bulldogs.
If this is Gonzaga’s final WCC tournament appearance, it went out with a flourish.
Childs had a superb first half on the heels of his career-best game in the semifinals. Gonzaga made it much tougher for the sophomore forward in the second half, holding him to four points on 1-of-6 shooting.
“He got the ball in some pretty tough spots,” Rice said. “We didn’t get the ball to him in angles where he’s really good. The made some really good adjustments on him, making it tougher for him to get an angle to scre.”
Killian, who is French, was asked to describe Gonzaga’s performance in one word in his native language.
“Ensemble,” he said. “It means together, as a group. We were all sharing the ball, it was great.”
BYU has slim NCAA tournament chances and could end up in one of the smaller postseason tournaments.
“We played most of the season with eight scholarship players and they kept fighting and kept battling,” Rose said. “It’s hard to win one game, let along 24 in a season. I’ll go to a battle with these guys anytime.”
Gonzaga could be up for a top-2 seed when the NCAA Tournament field is revealed Sunday.