LAS VEGAS – In a high-stakes semifinal matchup, BYU fell 88-84 to second-seeded Gonzaga Monday night in the West Coast Conference Championships in Las Vegas.
“It wasn’t for a lack of effort or a lack of energy or urgency,” Cougars head coach Dave Rose said. “These guys played their hearts out trying to win this game. Gonzaga was just a little bit better tonight.”
Freshman Nick Emery scored a team-high 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting and 5 of 11 from three, while pulling down five boards, dishing out four assists and recording three steals. Kyle Collinsworth registered his 35th career double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds to go with six assists. Chase Fischer added 15 points and Zac Seljaas chipped in with nine points off the bench.
BYU again cut the deficit to a one-point margin, 71-70, but Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer hit the team’s 11th three of the game to take a four-point lead at the 3:54 media timeout.
The Bulldogs extended their lead to seven on their 12th three of the game, 81-74, but a Fischer 3-pointer and an Emery layup kept BYU in it with 1:21 left to play.
With 31 seconds on the clock, Fischer knocked down his third trey of the game to bring the Cougars within three, 85-82.
But free throws sealed the fate of the game as the Zags converted 3 of 4 from the free-throw line while BYU was forced to shoot 3s en route to the final tally.
Gonzaga shot 49 percent in the game, including 12 of 28 from deep, and took the rebounding advantage 40-33. BYU registered 44 percent shooting from the floor and 10 of 26 from 3-point range while holding the 40-28 advantage on points in the paint.
“Their guards really shot the ball well and Wiltjer shot the ball really well,” Rose said. “We had to change how we were covering down on Sabonis. It was the 14 rebounds he got and the 29 (points) from Wiltjer. That guy is really good against us and we have a hard time matching up against him. ”
Gonzaga jumped out to a 13-5 lead by the 15:55 media timeout on three made 3-pointers.
Out of the timeout, Emery hit his first two 3-point attempts to bookend another Zag three, cutting the lead to 16-11 with 15:04 to play in the half.
The Cougars closed the gap even further with three straight layups from Collinsworth, Austin and Emery, who also converted the three-point play to bring the tally to 23-18 at the 11:59 mark.
With 6:18 to play, the Bulldogs had taken a 10-point lead as the Cougars made only 2 of their previous 10, but the margin was reduced back to six on an Emery layup and a Kaufusi dunk after the media timeout.
Emery’s third 3 brought BYU to within three points before the Bulldogs scored eight consecutive points sparked by their seventh 3-pointer of the half. They rebuilt their lead to 44-35 with just over three minutes until halftime.
BYU closed the half on a 12-3 run, tying the game at the buzzer, 47-47, on Kaufusi’s tip-slam as time expired.
The Zags went up 61-54 in the second half, but Emery’s fifth 3-pointer made it a four-point game as he knocked down the corner shot with 14:15 on the clock.
The two teams exchanged field goals and free throws over the next few minutes as Gonzaga held a 67-62 lead at the 12 minute mark.
After the under 12 media timeout, Emery made a jumper to bring the Cougars within three, 67-64, but BYU couldn’t overtake the Bulldogs as the game remained tight down the stretch.
The Cougars will learn of their postseason fate on Sunday, March 12.
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