Kevin Pangos scores 30 to lead Gonzaga to easy victory in West Coast Conference tournament semifinal.
LAS VEGAS — As rivalries go, this Jesuits-versus-Mormons thing doesn’t have quite the juice of Missouri-Kansas or even Oregon-Oregon State, two schools which have met in basketball 337 times.
But they’re working on it. Saturday night, in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament, Gonzaga confronted Brigham Young for just the fourth time, all inside of a calendar year.
And the Zags rallied to the occasion, winning 77-58, mostly because a freshman named Kevin Pangos wouldn’t let them lose. Pangos has had other superlative games this year — tying a school record with nine threes against Washington State, going for 27 points on Saint Mary’s — but he was simply otherworldly on this night, personally repelling every threat by the Cougars and finishing with 30 points.
Gonzaga led 38-26 at halftime, and when Brandon Davies came alive for BYU early in the second half, Pangos was equally potent at the other end. He had Gonzaga’s first seven points after intermission and 13 of their first 15.
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He hit a little runner. He hit a fast-break leaner from the top of the key. Then he nailed a three. He was the guy on the floor BYU couldn’t contain.
“I got the opening, and I was feeling it a little bit,” said Pangos. “I let it fly, and it worked. I feel that was the best thing for the team in this game.”
The Zags thus maintained a streak of not having failed to get to the WCC title game since 1997.
On Monday night the Bulldogs (25-5) will face Saint Mary’s (26-5). The teams split their season series.
The first eight minutes had to be Gonzaga’s most scintillating in a season that has seen 25 wins. The Zags jumped BYU with seemingly effortless offense, an aggressive man-to-man defense caused 12 misses in the first 16 attempts, and with 12:32 left in the half, Gonzaga led, 23-9.
Kicking up the audacity meter a notch, vacationing students from Gonzaga’s Kennel Club chanted, “Why so quiet?” at the BYU section across the way.
Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy, even after BYU coach Dave Rose got a technical foul for being overly demonstrative in showing officials how Zags center Robert Sacre was using elbows.
After the technical, Gonzaga led 30-12. But right about then, its offense went begging, unable to buy anything in its next five possessions. BYU finally hit a three — by Charles Abouo — after clanking its first nine, and the Cougars nosed back within 10 before settling for the 12-point deficit at half.
In the battle of freshman guards — the Zags’ true freshmen against two redshirts from BYU, Matt Carlino and Anson Winder — Gonzaga had much the better of it, thanks to Pangos. When the Cougars unveiled a zone defense to try to stem the Gonzaga momentum early, Pangos banged two threes on successive possessions from the left wing, and BYU suddenly had an idea what the night would be like.
Shaking his head at Pangos’ effort, Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, “He’s Derek Raivio-like with his attention to detail. There isn’t a day that goes by that he isn’t repping it out on one of our shooting machines.
“That was one of our most complete games of the year.”
Where the teams came up even was in slippage on the tournament logo at midcourt. Each of them had players go down twice and crews worked on the offending insignia.
As for the budding rivalry, Gonzaga evened it at 2-2. No doubt the Zags still burn a little from that Jimmer Fredette-induced, 89-67 ouster from the NCAA tournament last year. And no more can Gonzaga fans just sprawl into Orleans Arena with their feet up; since the WCC moved here in 2009, GU faithful have probably outnumbered any other school at least 6-to-1, but BYU, which began competing in the league just last fall, has cut into that sizably.
It was at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday that the BYU-Gonzaga dynamic reached fever pitch. A regular feature of this event is a blindfolded fan during a timeout trying to search out a pile of boxes featuring the brand of the tournament, sponsor, Zappos.
The PA announcer instructs the crowd to help the contestant by cheering when he gets closer and booing if he’s off-course. During the Gonzaga women’s game, with a typically heavy house of GU fans, a guy wearing a BYU sweatshirt was blindfolded.
Naturally, the fans booed when he approached the boxes, cheered when he veered off track.
You could see the red-and-blue-clad Gonzaga backers laughing. About 10 hours later, with the GU students chanting “This is our house,” they were still at it.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org