Zags Wrap Up Sole Possession Of WCC Regular-Season Crown
PROVO, Utah (AP) - No. 2 Gonzaga knew Brigham Young wouldn't be a pushover this time.
On Thursday night, the Cougars even threw a converted football player at Bulldogs star Kelly Olynyk.
Olynyk withstood the hit and Gonzaga withstood a furious rally for a 70-65 victory before a raucous crowd of 19,731.
Olynyk scored 19 points, Gary Bell Jr. hit four 3-pointers and Gonzaga won its 10th outright West Coast Conference title.
It certainly wasn't as easy as the 20-point win at the Kennel four weeks ago.
``There was a lot of clawing, scratching, pushing, shoving and that's what the score (shows),'' Olynyk said. ``That's what you live for and what we want to play like.
``This place was rocking and everyone was getting all excited, in the end it was a great game.''
The Bulldogs (28-2, 15-0 WCC) host Portland on Saturday and a win there could mean Gonzaga's first-ever No. 1 ranking.
``Our guys really want to finish up the conference really strong and go undefeated,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. ``This game was going to be hard for us whether we were ranked, 10th, 12th or 20th or whatever. We knew that when we looked at it on the schedule.''
Gonzaga led by 11 points with 10:51 left but BYU fought back.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Brock Zylstra, another by Craig Cusick and two free throws by Brandon Davies tied it at 60 with 4:18 remaining.
Olynyk hit a key jumper with 43 seconds remaining and Kevin Pangos made two free throws to give Gonzaga a little breathing room.
After Cusick was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free thows, BYU had one final chance with 6.6 seconds remaining and down three points. Gonzaga fouled Cusick before he could attempt a 3, and Elias Harris' free throws at the other end provided the final margin.
Tyler Haws, who was 0 for 9 in the first meeting, scored 19 points to lead BYU (20-10, 9-6).
Davies added 12 points and 11 rebounds in his final home game for the Cougars despite being plagued by foul trouble.
``It's crazy,'' said Davies, who returned after being thrown off the team two years ago for violating the school honor code just as BYU had climbed to No. 3 in the rankings. ``It didn't really hit me that this was my last home game until I was walking out with my family and my fellow seniors.''
Davies had two fouls in the first 2 1/2 minutes.
``That hurt us. You have to be smart,'' he said.
Olynyk was nearly perfect in the first game, going 9 of 9 from the field and 8 of 8 from the free throw line for 26 points.
This time, he probably felt as if he were in a football game as it was rough-and-tumble from the start, with a Cougars football player - 6-foot-7 freshman Bronson Kaufusi - even called for an intentional foul on Olynyk as he drove the lane.
He finished 7 of 10 from the field despite battling Davies and Kaufusi inside.
Bell was the lone Gonzaga player to have any success from the perimeter.
Pangos was 1 of 12 from beyond the arc and the Bulldogs 6 of 30 overall from 3-point range.
``It was there zone,'' Few said of taking so many 3s. ``Their zone was very, very content on taking away (Olynyk) in the high post. They were really squeezing him there. They played so hard in their zone that it was tough to find any openings. We tried to attack it inside out, and those were good shots.
Pangos said he was trying to get BYU's D to respect him rather than packing it inside.
``If I had to do it over again, I'd take the same shots,'' he said.
``This just shows what this team is all about. We kept grinding for the whole 40 minutes and never let up, even through the ups and downs.''
Gonzaga held BYU to 36.5 percent shooting and had a marked advantage at the free throw line. The Bulldogs made 20 of 34 attempts, compared to 13 of 22 for BYU.
BYU's hopes of a seventh straight NCAA appearance may come down to winning the WCC tourney in Las Vegas. The Cougars also could see their streak of six consecutive 25-win seasons end.
At least the Cougars know they pushed Gonzaga to the limit.
``I knew it was going to be an incredible environment and I knew BYU was going to give us everything we could handle,'' Few said.
``They play unbelievably hard. They not only did that tonight, but they stepped up and made big shots. Give them a lot of credit for taking it down to the wire.''
Should Gonzaga ascend to the top spot, the question remains whether the Bulldogs would garner a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament - something they have never achieved.
Their only losses this season were to Butler and Illinois when both were ranked No. 13.
Provided they defeat Portland, they will have won 12 straight heading into the WCC tournament.
Do they deserve to be No. 1?
``I have no clue,'' Olynyk said. ``I haven't looked into it at all. If they vote us that, great for us. If not, we're still going to come out and play the next game.''
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