PROVO, Utah (AP)Gonzaga found a way to win another nail-biter against a WCC opponent.
Julian Strawther hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds left to lift the No. 8 Bulldogs to a 75-74 victory over BYU on Thursday night.
Drew Timme had 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs. Anton Watson added 18 points and Strawther finished with 11 – including the game-winner.
”That’s the glory of having all these tough shot makers,” Strawther said. ”Every time we need a big shot or a big three, somebody steps up and knocks it down.”
Gonzaga (15-3, 4-0 WCC) overcame 34.5% shooting in the second half to rally for the win. It marked the third consecutive game where the Zags rallied from a double-digit deficit and won by five points or less.
”The mental strength of this team is strong, and it shows,” Watson said. ”It’s definitely going to help us in the future, but I think there’s times where it’s like, `Hey, lets just win the game. Let’s keep the lead.”’
Spencer Johnson scored 18 points to lead BYU. Gideon George and Jaxon Robinson chipped in 17 points apiece for the Cougars. Johnson, George, and Robinson combined to make 12 3-pointers.
BYU (13-7, 3-2 WCC) lost to Gonzaga for the sixth straight time. The Cougars shot 47% from the field to give themselves a chance to win after getting outrebounded 47-32 and surrendering 42 points in the paint.
”These guys continue to get better,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. ”I think they’re hungry to get better. They’ve been incredibly committed to growing as a team and trying to get better.”
The Cougars staked out a quick 13-9 lead after Fousseyni Traore capped a 10-1 run by converting a 3-point play off a steal and slam. BYU soon fell behind while struggling to hold Gonzaga’s potent offensive attack in check.
Hot shooting helped Gonzaga carve out a double-digit lead late in the first half. The Bulldogs made 10 of 11 shots over a six-minute stretch and surged to a 37-27 lead over BYU. Watson accounted for four of the baskets.
Gonzaga shot 56% from the field overall before halftime. The Bulldogs quickly cooled off after the locker room but still found ways to hang around.
”It’s kind of ingrained in our program,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. ”When you’re in this program you expect to win. Hopefully, they’re learning how to win like all our other groups have. I don’t think they ever count themselves out.”
BYU erased the deficit after halftime behind a flurry of 3-pointers. Johnson buried a pair of 3-pointers to ignite a 18-4 run that gave the Cougars a 66-56 lead. He and Robinson combined to make six 3-pointers over a 10-minute stretch to help BYU surge ahead of the Bulldogs again.
Gonzaga chipped away at the lead and finally went ahead on Strawther’s 3-pointer in the final seconds. Watson blocked a 3-point field goal attempt by Johnson as time ran out.
”It hurts for sure,” Johnson said. ”We were right there and we put ourselves in a really good position to win the game. We just couldn’t quite come through.”
With BYU heading to the Big 12 next season, Gonzaga will lose a tough road environment that has served the Bulldogs well in past seasons as a proving ground in getting ready for the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga boasts a 9-3 record in Provo since BYU joined the West Coast Conference in 2011. Few said the raucous Marriott Center – which had a sellout crowd of 18,987 on Thursday – has traditionally helped his players get a sneak peek of what to expect to face in March.
”I don’t think we make Final Fours without BYU coming in our league. I just don’t,” Few said. ”They’ve challenged us. . It’s been a treat to come in here and battle.”
Gonzaga: Cold shooting in the second half nearly doomed the Bulldogs but they extended their winning streak in the month of January to 35 games.
BYU: The Cougars were lethal from 3-point range for much of the game, going 13-of-25 from long distance.
Gonzaga hosts Portland on Saturday.
BYU hosts Pepperdine on Saturday.
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