BYU Blows Second Half Lead In Final Kennel Visit To No. 16 Gonzaga

Feb 11, 2023, 10:39 PM | Updated: Feb 13, 2023, 4:44 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – The BYU/Gonzaga rivalry as WCC rivals came to a close on Saturday night. It was another classic chapter in a series that Drew Timme said in October, “you never know what is going to happen.”

Only 48 hours after an embarrassing blowout loss to Pepperdine, no one expected BYU to give the No. 16 Zags much of a game. As they did in Provo, BYU had numerous opportunities to pull off the upset, but the Zags pulled away late.

BYU’s upset effort over the nationally-ranked Zags came up short, 88-81. The game saw BYU lead for most of the second half. After the under-four media timeout, Gonzaga did what the Zags typically do against teams in the WCC; they made the clutch plays necessary to pull out the win.

BYU had five players score in double-figures, with Spencer Johnson and Fousseyni Traore leading the way with 17 each. Noah Waterman gave BYU a spark off the bench with 12 points. Then Rudi Williams, in only 14 minutes, scored 11 points.

The stat of the night was at the free throw line. Gonzaga was 26-of-34 from the foul line, while BYU was 11-of-12. As ESPN’s Dave Flemming said in the nationally televised broadcast, “that’s your ball game.”

BYU knocked down threes in the first half

Two days after suffering a shocking setback to Pepperdine in Malibu, expectations were low for BYU against No. 16 Gonzaga. BYU began the game with a starting lineup change of Jaxson Robinson returning to the starting five and Noah Waterman coming off the bench.

Gonzaga jumped out to an early 6-0 lead, then built up a 14-5 lead. But BYU began heating up from three. BYU knocked down four of their first five threes to get them back in the game.

From there, BYU kept pushing to grab the lead, but the Zags kept the Cougs at bay. Drew Timme scored 10 points in the first half.

Spencer Johnson turned the corner for BYU, knocking down a three with 4:30 remaining. The long-range bucket tied the game at 30.

BYU’s defense also tightened up to close out the half. Gonzaga made zero field goals in the final 5:20 of the half. A far cry from the close-out against the Waves two nights ago.

Noah Waterman then rediscovered his shot. He knocked down a pair of long-distance shots. The first was ruled a two as his toes were on the line. Then the second, there was no question it was from beyond the arc.

Waterman scored seven points in the first half and had the best plus/minus for BYU in the first 20 minutes at (+10).

BYU outrebounded Gonzaga 21-15 in the first half.

The foul line, Julian Strawther, lift the Zags in second half

The whistles were early and often in the second half. Before the first media timeout in the second half, BYU was whistled for five team fouls to Gonzaga’s zero. Mark Pope went to work on the officials.

After his frustration with the refs, the officials called three quick fouls on the Zags during one defensive possession.

Gonzaga tied the game at 44 with 14 minutes remaining and looked ready to take over the game. BYU’s Rudi Williams answered with a clutch three. Then Spencer Johnson hit two free throws to get BYU’s lead back to five.

BYU maintained the lead and got it up to six points after a jumper by Williams to make it 63-57.

Gonzaga popped off a quick 9-0 run in two minutes of play to regain the lead. But BYU didn’t roll over. Fousseyni Traore scored three consecutive field goals to give BYU a three-point edge.

BYU was up 73-71 with 3:40 left, then deja vu happened. Well, Julian Strawther happened. The man who buried the game-winner for Gonzaga in Provo, Strawther hit a three to get the Zags back in front.

Then Rasir Bolton got into the act with a corner three of his own. After that, Jaxson Robinson was called for a foul on a long-range shot from Strawther with 36 seconds remaining.

From there, it was a free throw contest for the Zags as they pulled away with an 88-81 victory over BYU.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch and his BYU basketball coverage on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Blows Second Half Lead In Final Kennel Visit To No. 16 Gonzaga