PROVO – BYU rallied from 19 down to cut it to six late in the game, but in the end the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs were just too good Thursday night at the Marriott Center.
Nigel Williams-Goss had 33 points, seven rebounds and four assists, hitting four straight free throws in the game’s closing moments, as Gonzaga beat the Cougars and their sellout crowd of 19,000-plus 85-75.
TJ Haws had 29 points for BYU, but didn’t get much back-court help with Nick Emery battling the flu and scoring just two points.
“That’s a good team,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “I think our guys competed hard, especially when they weren’t individually playing their best at times. No matter how discouraged they got, they continued to compete and play hard. That’s a good sign, especially for a young team. I’m glad we got it close in the second half because it looked in the first half like it might get away from us.”
Haws led the Cougars with 29 points, hitting four treys in the process. Eric Mika contributed a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Elijah Bryant and Yoeli Childs chipped in 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Childs gave BYU (16-8, 7-4 West Coast Conference) its first points of the game as Gonzaga (23-0, 11-0) led early 4-2.
A Haws jumper followed by a Bryant 3-pointer then got the Cougars back within a point, trailing 9-8.
The Bulldogs countered with an 11-2 run, with help from a trio of treys, to extend the lead to double digits at 20-10.
BYU then went on a scoring drought for more than three minutes before Haws hit a jumper from the right side to cut into the advantage with Gonzaga ahead 29-14.
With the Bulldogs up 36-21, scoring remained stagnant with tight defense on both sides, as neither team scored a field goal in four minutes of play.
A Mika bucket gave the Cougars the final points of the half as Gonzaga led 42-26 at the break.
Nick Emery stole the ball and picked up an assist as Haws hit a 3-pointer in transition, forcing a Bulldog timeout, as BYU cut into the lead, down 45-33.
Haws and Mika each made a pair of shots from the charity stripe to cut the lead to eight, 45-37, but a quick 8-0 Gonzaga run extended its lead back to double digits at 58-40.
Davin Guinn followed with a 3-pointer, steal and transition layup to give the Cougars five-straight points, down 58-45.
BYU then went on another four-minute stretch without a field goal before Haws hit back-to-back 3-pointers to kick start the Cougars, down 66-58 with under eight minutes to go.
A Childs bucket kept BYU within nine, before Mike muscled his way to the rim for another bucket with the Cougars down just six, 76-70 with under two minutes to play.
The late rally proved too little, however, as the Bulldogs pushed their way to an 85-75 win.
BYU stays home at the Marriott Center, facing Portland Saturday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. MST. The game will be televised live on BYUtv and simulcast on BYU Radio – Sirius XM 143.
Gonzaga: All eyes were on the Bulldogs to see how they would respond to being ranked No. 1 for the second time in program history. Gonzaga stormed out the gate and looked every bit the part of the top team in the nation, especially on the road in a hostile environment against a conference rival.
BYU: The Cougars were short-handed and overwhelmed. Defense has been an issue all season long and it continued Thursday. BYU entered the game ranked No. 190 in the nation in scoring defense (72.7).
Gonzaga should remain No. 1 barring what would be a significant upset against Santa Clara on Saturday.
UNDER THE WEATHER
BYU guard Nick Emery was sick Wednesday and did not start. It was just the fifth game of his two-year career that he didn’t start. He entered averaging 13.9 points per game, but finished with two.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs host Santa Clara on Saturday.
BYU: The Cougars host Portland on Saturday.
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