It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.
After trailing 53-41 at halftime and letting BYU shoot 67.6% from the field and 69.2% from 3-point range in the first half, the Gonzaga Bulldogs reminded the nation why they are the No. 1 team in the country.
Enter Jalen Suggs, please take a bow.
Suggs closed the show in the second half to propel the Zags to an 88-78 victory over BYU in the WCC Championship Game. The versatile freshman guard finished with 23 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists as Gonzaga remained perfect for a 26-0 record.
This is the 16th team in school history to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated.
"It's really a heck of an accomplishment in lieu of these atmospheres that have been so stale and sterile," Coach Mark Few said post-game. "And led itself to defensive efforts like we had in the first half, quite frankly, so I give this group a ton of credit."
It was a magical comeback for the No. 1 team who trailed by 12 at halftime. BYU came out of the locker room shooting 1-of-5 to start the half and Gonzaga trimmed the lead to 4 with 11:18 remaining.
After falling behind 68-59, Mark Few’s squad went on a 7-0 run heading into the under-8 media timeout and took its first lead since six minutes into the game when Joel Ayayi scored on the fast-break to put the Zags up 69-68.
Suggs connected on a bank shot to give Gonzaga a 75-73 lead again then drilled consecutive threes down the stretch, but his defense in making BYU guard Alex Barcello uncomfortable was absolutely clutch.
"I think we've all done a great job at kind of staying focused and like I said, most of the times, taking it a game at a time," Suggs said. "But at some point, you've kind of got to acknowledge how special of a thing and how special of a ride that we're on right now."
It’s just the Gonzaga way
The men’s team aren’t the only ones overcoming adversity in this unprecedented year. The Gonzaga women’s team also beat BYU on Tuesday on a game-winning buzzer-beater to win the WCC Championship title.
The Bulldogs won 43-42 in miraculous fashion after as many as eight players on the Gonzaga women’s team came down with a stomach bug early Tuesday morning. Jill Townsend, who hit the final jumper off an inbounds play with six-tenths of a second left, admitted she got food poisoning as well.
“Vegas hadn’t been kind to us,” Townsend said after breaking her leg in the semifinals two years ago.
“And then last night. We’re thinking, ‘Could anything else happen to us?’”
The Gonzaga women’s team has now won its ninth WCC Tournament title and punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament for a 12th trip in program history. Head coach Lisa Fortier was proud of the way her team overcame a number of obstacles to upend the No. 2 seeded BYU on the final bucket.
"I'm just really happy for our team," Fortier said. "I'm just really proud of how tough our team was today. We had a long, long day. ... Just really happy for our team, and how we are resilient, and tough, and gritty, and all things that say, 'I'm a Zag, and I'm going to show you what that means if you don't know.’”
The Zags are dancing again in March!
The women’s team (23-3) will find out their seeding to the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Selection Monday on March 15 at 4 p.m. PT on ESPN. They are currently ranked No. 15 in the nation and have earned the league’s automatic bid.
The No. 1 ranked men’s team will enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated at 26-0 and will find out who their opponent will be during Selection Sunday on March 14 at 3 p.m. PT.
"I think the best part of it is we're all excited for it and we're happy to keep it going, but we're all ready to get back work," Suggs said.