LAS VEGAS -- The Gonzaga Bulldogs won their third straight West Coast Conference tournament title with a victory over the BYU Cougars on Tuesday night and, thus, likely put a stamp on a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"These guys are hungry to win games in the NCAA tournament," Zags coach Mark Few said after the 91-75 victory.
Now the next step is to see if Gonzaga can make that elusive Final Four appearance. Here are five observations from the game:
Gonzaga's biggest strength was on display against BYU and is the primary reason the Zags have a chance to play deep into March -- and maybe even April: quality depth. Six players finished in double-figures: Kyle Wiltjer (18), Kevin Pangos (16), Gary Bell Jr. (15), Domantas Sabonis (15), Przemek Karnowski (12) and Kyle Dranginis (10). USC transfer Byron Wesley only finished with three points one night after erupting for 25 in a win over Pepperdine.
Wiltjer made all three of his attempts from beyond the arc, Karnowski was unstoppable and nearly fouled out every BYU big man in the second half, and Sabonis brought much-needed energy and toughness to the floor. However, the most important player on the floor for Gonzaga was Bell, who hit key shots (3-of-6 from beyond the arc) and did a tremendous job on Tyler Haws. Again. Bell held Haws, the nation's third-leading scorer, to just 15 points. Bell is one of the most underrated defenders on the West Coast -- and even in the country.
Gonzaga's three-headed frontline of Wiltjer, Karnowski and Sabonis is able to overpower teams in the WCC, but the question will be whether they can do the same in the NCAA tournament. Wiltjer is a potent scorer both around the basket and on the perimeter, while Karnowski was unstoppable during one second-half stretch against the Cougars. Sabonis plays with reckless abandon and supplies an intensity this sometimes emotionless team sorely needs. But can they be as effective against teams who can match -- or come close to matching -- their size?
BYU is considered a bubble team entering Selection Sunday, but the Cougars are a dangerous opponent if they get into the field. "Somebody's worst nightmare," Few said of the Cougars. Haws is a prolific scorer who makes a living making contested shots, and Kyle Collinsworth is as versatile a player as there is in the entire country. Collinsworth tore his ACL a year ago and entered the contest averaging 13.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists. Chase Fischer, who erupted for 24 points Monday in the win over Portland, struggled and made just three of 12 shots against Gonzaga.
Cougars big man Corbin Kaufusi was held scoreless but did grab nine rebounds. The 6-foot-10 freshman was set to play football at BYU, where his father is an assistant football coach. However, he grew five inches during an LDS mission and decided to play basketball instead. Kaufusi is still raw, but he has progressed this season and will be a key if the Cougars get into the NCAA tournament. He needs to remain out of foul trouble and finish around the basket -- two areas where he was ineffective Tuesday night.