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Kyle Collinsworth recorded another triple double, looking like the best player on the court in a matchup with a Top 10 opponent. Tyler Haws was BYU's co-leader in scoring, while playing with a sprained ankle that prevents him from jumping normally or practicing regularly.
The Cougars just needed more from them.
That would be asking a lot, I know, but the reality is that beating No. 8 Gonzaga would have required extraordinary efforts from BYU's stars from start to finish Saturday at the Marriott Center. The Bulldogs possess too much balance and poise to be overcome by anything other than BYU's best stuff, and the Cougars could not quite deliver in an 87-80 loss to open West Coast Conference play.
"Hopefully," BYU coach Dave Rose concluded, "the next time we play 'em, we're a lot better team."
That could happen, considering the meeting comes in late February, concluding the conference schedule. The trouble is that this was BYU's only shot at the Zags in Provo, and the Cougars just were not up to a Top 10 level when it counted.
Even during a holiday break, with the band unavailable, this was a tense, entertaining game in a sold-out building. Want to know the best thing about BYU's football independence? Basketball games vs. Gonzaga.
The Cougars made this game memorable with a stirring comeback in the first half, only to wobble in the second half after leading by six points. To boil it down, Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos was just better than Haws and had more help, from the likes of Kyle Wiltjer.
Pangos scored 18 of his 21 points after halftime, when Haws scored just seven of his 17 including one field goal. We'll never know how much Haws' ankle affected him, but the trend was unmistakable. Haws' jump shots kept coming up short, including a 3-point attempt that could have tied the game with 1:41 left.
BYU coach Dave Rose credited Haws with a "tremendous" effort and Collinsworth empathized with his teammate's trying to play without practicing, as he understands from his own experience.
But the numbers speak the harsh truth: Collinsworth and Haws shot a combined 2 of 10 from the field in the second half, when BYU faded and Gonzaga asserted itself.
The game just lasted too long for BYU, because Gonzaga's talent prevailed over 40 minutes. Or maybe the first half didn't last long enough for the Cougars.
BYU showed the toughness and ability of an NCAA Tournament team in the last nine minutes of the half, with a spurt that started after the Cougars trailed 31-15 and not coincidentally Collinsworth checked back into the game.
During the 28-12 run that tied the game, concluding with his 3-pointer at the buzzer, Collinsworth posted nine points, four assists, two rebounds and a steal, "dominating every facet of the game," by Rose's account.
Collinsworth finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, three weeks after producing BYU's first triple double in 26 years. He duplicated his first-half rebound and assist totals, but added only four points in the second half while committing four turnovers and blaming himself for "a couple dumb plays down the stretch."
Rose said, "We're asking Kyle to do a lot right now." So his shortcomings are forgivable, but just not sufficient for BYU to win under these circumstances, with center Nate Austin sidelined and Haws limited.
Haws scored only four points in the last 19 minutes, when anything resembling his usual self may have made the difference in the outcome.
All the Cougars can do now is win their share of the next 16 conference games, make their Feb. 28 meeting with Gonzaga in Spokane meaningful and hope for another shot at the Bulldogs in the WCC tournament championship game in Las Vegas.
This one got away from them, though, and they'll spend two months thinking about it.