It was easy to pinpoint reasons for Gonzaga’s deflating 91-78 road loss to BYU on Saturday.
The list includes the wild atmosphere inside the Marriott Center, Yoeli Childs’ interior dominance, BYU’s clutch 3-point shooting and the Cougars’ decided edge in physicality.
The Zags (27-2) preferred to point the blame inward.
Gonzaga hasn’t played in a tougher venue this season. Road games at Washington and Arizona were loud, but not on the same decibel level as the Marriott Center.
“It’s white noise, man,” junior wing Corey Kispert shrugged. “It more gets them going than rattles us.”
“I don’t think it was a factor at all,” sophomore post Filip Petrusev said. “Just us being soft, not playing the right way. We just didn’t play the way we’ve played this year, simple as that.”
Gonzaga embraced the challenge of facing a ranked opponent in front of packed audiences at UW’s Alaska Airlines Arena and Arizona’s McKale Center.
“We’ve been really successful (with five straight wins at the Marriott Center) because we’ve come in here and brought the fight and brought our ‘A’ game,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “I don’t know if you can win anywhere if you get out-toughed on a consistent basis. This is a great environment. All our other teams have been so excited to play here, they played great.”
There’s plenty of learning material to be absorbed from the loss, but Few also chose to keep the setback in perspective. The Zags re-focused after losses to BYU in the 2015 and 2017 regular-season finales to reach the Elite Eight and national championship game, respectively.
“We had a great run (with 19 consecutive wins) and we had one bad one,” Few said. “So we’ll just move on.”
Childs manhandles Zags
Childs, a spectator in GU’s 92-69 win in Spokane last month because of a finger injury, routinely punished the Zags whether they double-teamed him or not. Childs and Zac Seljaas stung GU several times on pick-and-rolls.
Childs made 11 of his final 15 shots. He maintained a near point-per-minute pace throughout, scoring 28 points in 29 minutes while battling foul issues.
Facing double-teams, Childs twice fed teammates for 3-pointers and found Colby Lee alone for a layup. When isolated, Childs got the better of the Zags’ frontcourt trio of Petrusev, Killian Tillie and Drew Timme, and did the same when guarded by smaller defenders after switches.
“Yeah,” Tillie said of Childs’ presence changing BYU’s offense, “but the problem was us, it wasn’t him. We just did a bad job of rotating. It wasn’t about one player, it was us.”
Tillie is focused on GU’s response to just its second loss.
“I’d rather lose now than in March,” he said. “I’ll take a loss right now, get the team fired up and bounce back. We’ll get ready Monday and practice like we’re the best team in the country, even though it won’t show up in the rankings we still believe that.”
Round 3 in Las Vegas?
Gonzaga holds a two-game lead over BYU in the WCC standings. The Zags have a bye into the WCC Tournament semifinals and BYU is on track to join them if it takes care of business next week.
That means a rematch would require one win by each in Las Vegas, which seems fitting after a split of the regular-season series.
“Definitely,” Tillie said, “I want them in Vegas.”
BYU is 0-5 versus Gonzaga at the tournament.
One positive from the Zags’ 1-1 week: Tillie had a pair of strong outings, leading Gonzaga in scoring with 18 and 22 in his return from an ankle injury. He played 26 minutes against BYU and 30-plus versus San Francisco on Thursday.
Tillie was effective despite not being at full speed in either contest.
“I’m good right now, but I won’t know yet,” said Tillie, when asked how his ankle responded to two demanding games. “We’ll see (Sunday) morning.”