Cougars lose to Gonzaga in WCC Championship game, must await fate on Selection Sunday

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BYU carried its largest winning streak of the season into the WCC Championship game against Gonzaga, but the Cougars performance wasn’t enough to give them an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as they fell to the Bulldogs 91–75 Tuesday night in Las Vegas.

Junior guard Kyle Collinsworth led all scorers with 28 points (a career record), 8 rebounds and 5 assists, and Tyler Haws added 15 for the Cougars. Kyle Wiltjer added 18 points and Gary Bell Jr. scored 15 for Gonzaga.

Gonzaga earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament; time will tell if they have earned a one-seed or two-seed. The Cougars await the decision of the selection committee and hope their name is called on Selection Sunday.

The rematch, grudge match, rubber match — whatever you want to call it, the title game between No. 2 BYU and No. 1 Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship was for all the marbles. Bragging rights and an NCAA tourney were on the line.

The surging Cougars, winners of eight straight, and the Bulldogs, who have just two losses all year (one to BYU), provided just what we wanted.

It started off tightly contested, Collinsworth nabbing six quick points, right where he left off in his triple-double performance against Portland.

But Gonzaga started hitting from three, something the Bulldogs didn’t do well in their last meeting with BYU in Spokane. Consecutive threes from Kyle Wiltjer and Gary Bell Jr. put the Bulldogs up 17–10 with 12 minutes remaining in the first half.

The Cougars run eventually ended at ten, and Tyler Haws connected on his first shot attempt to stop the bleeding, and hit a jumper, and one, a minute later. Haws, considered to be the nation’s biggest threat from mid range, had just 10 points against Gonzaga last time out in Spokane.

The fouls, though, started piling up with Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis battling hard down low, slowing the game down on the run-and-gun Cougars. The Cougars had 10 fouls called with over seven minutes left in the first half — two on Haws, Corbin Kaufusi and Josh Sharp.

The same fate befell Gonzaga late, though, and Collinsworth attacked the rim, scored and drew the foul to bring BYU within five of the Zags with 7:26 in the half.

The Bulldogs maintained a decent lead as the half winded down, using big plays from Bell and Sabonis to keep the Cougars at bay. The Gonzaga defense also forced other BYU bigs to step up, like Isaac Neilson, who hit a big three with just over four minutes remaining in the half.

Bell, a key player for the Zags, only scored three points in his last outing against the Cougars, but attacked on both sides of the ball to stretch the Gonzaga lead to 44–37 with 3:29 in the half.

BYU entered the half down six, 48-42.

Haws opened up second-half scoring with a jumper. The Wooden Award candidate played limited minutes because of first-half foul trouble. Back-to-back field goals by Chase Fischer brought the Cougars to within four of the Zags early on.

But fouls started to become and issue again, as Kaufusi, Sharp and Luke Worthington had three personals with 16 minutes left.

It wasn’t pretty, as the Cougars were called for five fouls inside 5 minutes, the majority called while defending Karnowski. But BYU battled, and Haws hit a jumper in transition and Collinsworth hit a rare three to get the game within three, 60–57 with 13 minutes remaining.

But the Zags kept battling and stretched the lead back to eight off a Wiltjer three. Then, following a blocked Haws three and bad call going in favor of the Bulldogs, Dave Rose jumped off the bench and was called for a technical.

Haws, Sharp and Collinsworth helped cool Rose down, hitting consecutive shots and getting stops on the defensive end to help the Cougars come within six points after falling down 12.

Sustained offense seemed to be a problem, as the Cougars continued to shoot around 50 percent from the field but couldn’t score on consecutive trips very often.

Hope of the Cougars winning their first conference championship since 2001 started to fade with down 79–69 with 3:37 left.

Kevin Pangos, quiet for most of the game, put the Zags up 84–71 with just over two minutes left. Collinsworth’s monster game didn’t appear to be enough to carry the BYU offense. The Cougars will just have to sweat it out until Selection Sunday.

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Steven is an online intern majoring in Communications at Brigham Young University. His interests include playing golf, reading fiction and having fun with his family.

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