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Provo • Facing No. 8-ranked Gonzaga and its never-ending supply of quality big men on Saturday afternoon in a West Coast Conference opener at the sold-out Marriott Center, BYU's game plan was to make the Zags' guards beat them.
And, as BYU coach Dave Rose put it, "that's really kind of what happened."
Senior guard Kevin Pangos, mostly silent in the first half when BYU overcame an early 16-point deficit to tie it at the break, erupted for 18 points in the second half and led GU to a 87-80 win in front of 20,900 disappointed fans, the Cougars' second sellout of the season.
The Cougars (0-1, 10-4) can take some consolation in leading a legitimate top-10 team 55-49 with a bit more than 15 minutes remaining the most Gonzaga (1-0, 12-1) has trailed in a second half this season but were unable to corral Pangos and Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer when it mattered most.
Pangos finished with 21 and the 6-foot-10 Wiltjer, a matchup problem all game, led all scorers with 24.
"We came out in the second half and had a nice little run, and then we got a little bit impatient," Rose said. "We got impatient defensively and a little impatient offensively and they were good. Their execution was good. They hit some big shots against our zone."
Pangos hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then two free throws in two trips to the line in a 90-second span to knot the score at 57-57 with 13:32 remaining. Gary Bell Jr. hit a trey from long-range and Pangos added another trey 39 seconds later to give the Zags their first first lead of the second half, 63-61.
The Cougars regained the lead on three free-throws from Frank Bartley IV, but then Wiltjer took over, backing down his smaller BYU defender and scoring six straight points before Pangos hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half. Wilter's trey with 6:25 left, making the Zags 6 of 10 from 3-point range in the second half, was the backbreaker.
"Just a better job on Pangos," is how Collinsworth explained how the Cougars might have been able to pull off the upset.
Collinsworth finished with his second triple-double 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists but he and Tyler Haws failed to deliver down the stretch and were outplayed by Pangos and Wiljer in crunch time. Haws gave another gutsy effort on his gimpy ankle, but seemed to tire in the second half and, like in the loss to Utah, drew the front iron several times when he had open looks.
He finished 4 of 12 from the field, 0 of 3 from 3-point range, with 17 points.
"You can see times out there on the floor where he gets himself into situations that he is not really comfortable with, trying to explode off that [sprained ankle]," Rose said.
The Cougars trailed 80-77 and had the ball with under two minutes remaining, but botched an inbounds pass to Corbin Kaufusi, and Byron Wesley's jumper righted the Zags, who have won 18 straight conference openers.
"I think we had enough in us to win it, we just had to make the plays," Collinsworth said. "… I made a couple dumb plays down the stretch [including a turnover when Wesley slapped the ball away]."
Forced to go to a four-guard lineup because big men Isaac Neilson, Kaufusi and Luke Worthington all had two fouls apiece 10 minutes into the game, the Cougars got the usual big lift from Anson Winder, who finished with 17 points.
But the Zags won the rebounding battle 35-30, assisted on 22 of their 32 field goals, and were too talented for a BYU team missing its best big man, Nate Austin.
"When it comes down to it, they made the shots they needed to in the second half," Collinsworth said.
R The No. 8-ranked Zags go 6 of 10 from three-point range in the second half
• Trailing by 16 in the first half, the Cougars rally to tie it at halftime and lead by six in the second half
• BYU enjoys a 27-15 advantage at the free-throw line, but makes just two 3-pointers in second half.