PROVO, Utah – BYU took the fight to Gonzaga and sent a message to everyone else about how dangerous it could be when March rolls around.
The No. 23 Cougars imposed their will on offense and defense for the better part of 40 minutes for a 91-78 victory over second-ranked Gonzaga on Saturday night. They ended the Bulldogs' 19-game winning streak by battling for loose balls and forcing turnovers on one end and attacking the basket without fear on the other end.
BYU (23-7, 12-3 WCC) never trailed after halftime en route to winning its eighth straight game.
“Gonzaga is a great team,” forward Yoeli Childs said. “They made their runs and they had great players out there making great plays, but nothing they did slowed us down. It gets me really excited for the future.”
Childs led BYU with 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds. The senior put the Cougars on his shoulders at critical points when the offense needed an extra boost.
Gonzaga trailed by 14 points early in the second half before mounting a comeback. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 70-68 on a jumper from Drew Timme with 7:52 remaining.
Zac Seljaas made back-to-back baskets to give the Cougars a little breathing room again. Then Childs bookended a string of four straight BYU baskets with a layup and a jumper to put the Cougars up 87-76 with 3:15 left.
Gonzaga scored a single basket over the final seven minutes.
“Our guys were fighting,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “If you want to have a chance to play with them, then you better be dialed in on every single possession.”
Jake Toolson added 17 points for the Cougars and T.J. Haws had 16 points.
Killian Tillie scored 18 points and Corey Kispert added 16 for the Bulldogs. Filip Petrusev added 14 points and Admon Gilder chipped in 13. Gonzaga (27-2, 13-1) won the previous five meetings in Provo.
The Bulldogs turned it over 14 times and allowed BYU to score 18 points off those turnovers. The Cougars had no trouble finding a rhythm, shooting 53% from the field and 41% from 3-point range.
“They came after us with their offense,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They came after us with their defense, physically taking the ball from us. We didn't deserve to win.”
Childs capped a 13-4 run that gave BYU a 21-18 lead with back-to-back baskets. Gonzaga briefly regained a 25-24 lead on baskets from Kispert and Petrusev. The Cougars surged back ahead before halftime thanks to Childs.
He accounted for three buckets on a run of five straight possessions that ended in baskets for BYU. It helped the Cougars claw out a 38-32 lead.
Gonzaga was held without a field goal over the final 4:36 of the first half.
The Cougars kept building on their momentum early in the second half, with 3-pointers from Kolby Lee and Toolson highlighting a run of four straight baskets that put BYU up 58-44.
“They were tougher,” Petrusev said. “We let them outplay us. They were just a tougher team and they beat us.”
Haws set an aggressive tone for BYU in the first four minutes. The senior guard scored his team's first two baskets. Then, over three straight possessions, Haws drew back-to-back charges and stole the ball.
“Before the game, in the locker room, Coach had 'defense wins' up on the board,” Haws said. “Somebody's got to take charges if (Dalton Nixon) is out. I thought I could get a couple tonight.”
Gonzaga had numerous winning streaks snapped. Coming into the game, the Bulldogs had won 40 straight regular-season conference games and 39 straight road contests against WCC opponents. The 40-game winning streak against conference opponents had been the longest such streak in the nation.
Gonzaga: Numerous turnovers and lengthy shooting droughts led to a rare loss. The Bulldogs likely have little margin for error now in their quest to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
BYU: A win over a Gonzaga team that spent part of the season ranked No. 1 will go a long way to helping the Cougars lock up an NCAA Tournament bid in March.
No. 23 BYU could climb multiple spots in the AP Top 25 poll, while Gonzaga will see where it ends up after the Nos. 1 and 4 teams also lost.
Gonzaga hosts San Diego on Thursday.
BYU visits Pepperdine on Saturday.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25