To be honest, that was pretty much what I expected to happen. Not what I hoped for, but pretty much what I expected.
BYU rode a dismal first-half effort to a 19-point halftime deficit from which they never recovered, falling to No. 10 Gonzaga before a raucous crowd at The Kennel, 83-63. Kelly Olynyk didn't miss a single shot all night, pacing the Bulldogs with 26 points on 9-for-9 shooting and 8-for-8 from the stripe.
But while the final result wasn't too far outside my expectations, the way we got there was a bit of a surprise. Gonzaga dominated the game from the opening tip, particularly on the defensive end. BYU simply couldn't figure out how to solve the Zags' tough, physical defense and looked completely out of sorts in the opening frame.
The source of the problem could really be traced back to one root cause: the Bulldogs successfully took Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies out of the game — and while Davies finally found some kind of rhythm in the second half, Haws was completely ineffective. Gonzaga smothered him on the perimeter, preventing him from even catching the ball. If he did manage to catch, a double-team came as soon as he put the ball on the floor. It was a masterful game plan, executed flawlessly. Haws finished with 1 point on 0-for-9 shooting.
You're not going to win many games, especially against Top 10 teams, when you're best player completely disappears — and there is no other way to adequately describe what happened to Haws on Thursday night. If Haws gets anywhere near his scoring average, this is a close game that comes down to the wire. BYU has a chance to win. Unfortunately, that's just not how it happened. Far from it.
To be fair, every Cougar struggled in this one, though perhaps none as badly as Haws. Davies played much of the game as if he had as good a chance of detecting an impending double-team as he did immediately flying to the moon. Matt Carlino tried his best to step in for BYU's absent superstars offensively, but he was woefully off the mark and ended up forcing shots in an attempt to make something happen. And really, past that, no one else was really there. It was just a whole lot of blah.
(Except Josh Sharp, who set a new career-high with 14 points — and a technical foul to boot! — on 5-for-6 shooting in a great effort. He was essentially BYU's primary offensive threat for much of the first half, which really says a lot about how bad things got.)
However, with all that being said, I thought I would be a lot more despondent over a 20-point loss like this than I am. In fact, I'm almost encouraged. Why, you ask? Because of the second half.
BYU really turned up the defensive intensity after halftime, pressuring the Zags on the perimeter and flying around in the passing lanes. That renewed sense of purpose, as it is wont to do, led to some turnovers, some easy buckets, and by extension, some much-needed confidence. Once Davies started looking like an actual human being again, the Cougars didn't look completely awful. I mean, yes, Tyler Haws was still vacationing in Neverland, but it's all relative at that point.
The Cougars essentially played Gonzaga to a draw over the last 20 minutes — in a tough road environment, without receiving any contribution from their best player. Tell me that isn't least bit encouraging. If you're looking for silver linings in this exceptional storm cloud, that's the one you want to take back to Provo with you in preparation for the next time these teams meet. Tyler Haws was magically invisible and The Kennel was rocking and BYU wasn't even playing that well, and they still managed to fight the tenth best team in the land to a second-half tie. Imagine the possibilities if those factors reverse themselves even a little bit — not a stretch of the imagination — during the return trip to the Marriott Center on February 28th?
Maybe, just maybe, underneath all the frustration and pain that came from this trip to Spokane, there is still a little sliver of hope. BYU is going to need it.
• Kelly Olynyk. Wow. That guy is literally a machine. Made in Canada.
• After an awful first half, the defense really improved in the second. I don't know if there was necessarily a strategic change as much as there was just more energy on the court. Gaps were closed more quickly and shots were contested more closely. Sometimes those little things can make all the difference. The challenge is to now bring that kind of effort for a full 40 minutes.
• It's hard to put into words just how bad Haws was in this one. The guys just couldn't catch a break. Nothing was falling, he couldn't buy a foul call, and then he just disappeared. And he deserves to be criticized for that. Star players adjust and find ways to score the ball, whether that be getting to the line or finding easier looks. Tyler didn't do that tonight. I'm sure he'll learn from this and be better in the future, but for tonight, he deserves to take the heat. Many fans' willingness to give him a free pass (while so many insist on grinding Carlino to a bloody pulp for the smallest mistake) is mystifying to me. Even the chosen one deserves his share of the blame in this one.
• Davies has to learn to make quicker post moves, particularly when he knows the defense is preparing to collapse on him. He simply doesn't have time take five or six dribbles before making a decision. Gonzaga was doubling down on him as soon as he put the ball on the floor, and he just wasn't responding quickly enough to a) recognize the double-team, and then b) either pass the ball to an open teammate or make a quick move to the basket. It was a struggle.
• Part of the problem could be that Davies absolutely refuses to turn to his left hand when he catches in the post. It's like he's the college basketball equivalent of Derek Zoolander.
• Many people on Twitter are just barbecuing Carlino for his performance in this one, but I — as usual — think the bile is misplaced. Certainly, this was far from Matt's best effort. He forced a few shots, he pressed too hard at times, he turned the ball over a little more than I would like, but he wasn't demonstrably worse than anyone else. Everyone else on the roster did all those things too. On the contrary, I thought Carlino actually did a pretty commendable job, considering he basically had no help offensively for much of the game.
• It's time we talk about the fact that Carlino is the only guy on the team who can create his own shot. A lot of folks complain when he drives into traffic or calls his own number, but he has to play that role. No one else can. It becomes even more important on nights like Thursday, when Haws and Davies are taken out of the game. Somebody still has to score. Somebody still has to take a shot every 35 seconds. And with the relative paucity of scoring options on the BYU roster, that responsibility often falls to Matt in these situations, because he is literally the only guy who can get by his defender and make something happen. That doesn't give him a free pass on every poor decision he's ever made, but it certainly needs to be taken into account.
• Crucify Matt Carlino if you insist, but no one should ever question whether he is playing hard. That kid gives his entire heart and soul on both ends every time he steps on the floor, no matter what the scoreboard says. You cannot question his effort. It helped set the tone for the rest of the guys, particularly during that second half resurgence.
• BYU took two mid-range jumpers in fast break situations in this one — one by Haws, one by Winder. Both missed. Let's not do that anymore, shall we?
• ESPN absolutely refused to stop showing Matthew Dellavedova's game-winning miracle heave from last week. They repeated it ad nauseum during the broadcast. Salt in the wound, ESPN. Not cool.
• For future reference, this is what every opponent should try to do to BYU — smother Haws, collapse on Davies, and make somebody else beat you on offense. The Cougars just don't appear to have the individual offensive weapons to make teams pay unless the shots are falling. Expect to see more of this "Gonzaga-style" approach in the coming weeks of league play. Time for Dave Rose and company to watch some tape.
• To poke some fun at the haters who seem to blame Carlino for everything that has ever gone wrong in the world, Kurtis Larson, Ben Wagner and myself spent some time after the game coming up with a pretty comprehensive list of all the terrible things he has done. (Hint: World War I, World War II, the Titanic, the Great Chicago Fire, Jar-Jar Binks, Gigli, Nickelback, the financial crisis, Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend, and several others — all Matt Carlino's fault.) If you're looking for a few yucks to lighten the mood, I highly recommend checking out our individual Twitter profiles for a little levity.
UP NEXT: BYU at Portland, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MST