Gonzaga versus Brigham Young University was supposed to be a big game. BYU was supposed to be a threat. Neither of those predictions was remotely true. Gonzaga defeated the Cougars 86-69 on Thursday night, sustaining their imminent dominance in the West Coast Conference—and the nation.
Gonzaga Remains Perfect by Dominating BYU
The Bulldogs were originally slated to face Santa Clara and BYU was set to play Pacific. However, due to COVID-19 concerns within both California school’s programs, the top two teams in the conference quickly moved up their much-anticipated matchup by a month. Perhaps BYU should have ignored the idea.
BYU hadn’t played since Dec. 23 and their long pause was apparent. The contest lost its luster very early. Any sort of “instant-classic” anticipation was ruined midway through the first half—the Bulldogs led 30-7 just nine minutes in. Gonzaga had even covered the 17-point spread less than six minutes into the game.
Gonzaga played as efficiently and as well as we’ve come to expect. Corey Kispert led all scorers with 23 points, freshman-sensation Jalen Suggs contributed 16, and Drew Timme added 12 on 63 percent shooting. Joel Ayayi facilitated a game-high six assists, and forward Anton Watson posted eight points and eight rebounds. That was just the starting lineup. Andrew Nembhard contributed 12 points off the bench.
The Bulldogs shot 49.2 percent from the field, had 19 team assists, and only turned the ball over eight times. Strangely enough, that stat line, including the final score, is below their season averages. Gonzaga’s offense is never in question, though. It was their defensive prowess that was impressive. They held BYU to 44.3 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers. Cougars’ star Alex Barcello was held to just nine points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Gonzaga is a complete team, and Coach Mark Few has had his team playing at a high-level since the season opener.
Path to Perfection
The outcome of the game wasn’t about BYU’s layoff or poor play. Excuses don’t matter because the Cougars are a very good team that will most likely still make the NCAA Tournament. This has everything to do with Gonzaga. No team will ever be fully prepared for their machine-like offense and tenacious defense. The Bulldogs have also proven they are ready for any style of play that an opponent presents. Here’s a quick recap of notable wins thus far:
Nov. 26: 102-90 over No. 6 Kansas.
Dec. 2: 87-82 over No. 11 West Virginia.
Dec. 19: 99-88 over No. 3 Iowa.
Dec. 26: 98-75 over No. 16 Virginia.
We can speculate all we want about what would have happened against Baylor, but we’ll probably find out come March. These aren’t just regular wins, they’re convincing wins. An undefeated season is becoming more of a reality each game.
The 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers were the last program to go undefeated and win a National Championship. The Bulldogs, in comparison to that great Hoosier squad, have a better shooting percentage, score many more points, turn the ball over much less, and pass the ball just as much. Defensively, Indiana forced more turnovers and allowed fewer points than this Gonzaga squad, but what makes a great team are the little things. Against BYU, there were times when Bulldog players were snatching offensive rebounds among three Cougars, they would pressure the perimeter and crowd the paint, and Few was intensely coaching even when his reserves were on the court.
To sum up, this Gonzaga team is quite dangerous, and we may be witnessing history.
Gonzaga and BYU are set for a rematch on Feb. 27. The Cougars will be a different team by then, but it still won’t matter.
Gonzaga visits Portland on Jan. 9, and BYU travels to Saint Mary’s on Jan. 14 for another key WCC matchup.
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