After winning 11 of their first 12 games of the season No. 8 Gonzaga opened West Coast Conference play Saturday with arguably its biggest test of the conference season: at BYU. With the perimeter tandem of Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth leading the nation’s highest-scoring offense, the Cougars were expected to at the very least challenge Mark Few’s team in Provo.
And with the exception of a slow start in which Gonzaga scored 18 of the game’s first 24 points BYU did just that, going small after beginning the game with two big men in an attempt to slow down the Gonzaga front court and using a zone defense to slow down the visitors offensively. The other key for BYU was working to turn Gonzaga misses into transition opportunities on all misses. BYU was eventually able to pull even at the break on a Collinsworth three-pointer, and the game remained tight throughout the second half.
However, Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos proved to be too much for BYU, as those two combined to score 45 points in Gonzaga’s 87-80 win.
Wiltjer, who’s been one of the best transfers in the country, was a matchup problem for BYU throughout due to his ability to score both inside and on the perimeter. The former Kentucky forward scored 11 points in the first half and 13 in the second, with USC transfer Byron Wesley (15 points, ten rebounds) adding ten of his fifteen points in the game’s first 20 minutes. The difference maker was Pangos, whose role has undergone the greatest amount of change throughout the 2014-15 season to date.
After scoring just three points in the first half Pangos racked up 18 in the second, as he was more aggressive in looking for openings to score himself against the BYU defense. Pangos made five of his seven second-half field goal attempts (4-for-5 3PT), and he finished the game with 21 points, seven assists and just one turnover. With Gonzaga’s lack of depth at the point guard position, Pangos has sacrificed some scoring opportunities to get his teammates quality looks. But while Pangos’ scoring average may have dipped from last season to this, the shooting percentages have improved and he’s also taken good care of the basketball.
The addition of Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan in early January will help the Bulldogs when it comes to having options to can initiate things offensively, and that will give Pangos more chances to play off the basketball moving forward. But he’s been very good as the lead guard for Gonzaga this season, getting even better at balancing when to look for his own shot and when to sacrifice that in order to get his teammates quality looks.
In the second half Saturday the senior guard was took advantage of the BYU defense and put 18 points on the board, leading the way for Gonzaga as they picked up a road win in their WCC opener.