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Guards power Gonzaga past Cougars

Gonzaga’s backcourt took center stage.

David Stockton, Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos stuffed the stat sheet and Sam Dower Jr. added 18 points as the Bulldogs pulled away from BYU 84-69 in front of an energized crowd of 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

The Bulldogs (18-3, 8-1), ranked No. 21 in the USA Today poll, reached the midpoint of the WCC season in first place, one game in front of Saint Mary’s in the loss column. Their fourth straight victory was fueled by the trio of guards’ combined 52 points, 17 assists, 10 rebounds and three steals. Add in Kyle Dranginis and those totals go to 54 points, 20 assists, 12 boards and five steals.

And just two turnovers in 122 combined minutes.

Stockton sparked Gonzaga in the first half with 12 points. Pangos and Bell carried the Zags in the second half. Pangos buried five of his six 3-pointers after halftime en route to 24 points, his highest output since scoring 34 points against Arkansas in Maui. Bell, in his second game back after missing six games with a broken hand, had 11 points and three assists in the second half.

“David just absolutely carried us in the first half,” coach Mark Few said. “The second half … Gary and Kevin really took over.”

Add in Dower’s low-post presence and the Bulldogs made 57 percent of their shots, 64 percent in the final 20 minutes, and handed out 21 assists, equaling their season high.

“They’re a tough team to cover, especially when they have (Drew) Barham hitting 3s, and Bell’s hitting 3s and Pangos and Stockton,” said BYU coach Dave Rose, whose team dropped to 13-9, 5-4. “You just can’t afford to give help, and if you don’t give help they carve you up driving to the basket and getting it to the big guys.”

Gonzaga was on the verge of opening up comfortable leads on several occasions, but BYU stuck around by owning the offensive glass in the first half – nine boards leading to a 10-0 advantage in second-chance points – and riding Tyler Haws’ team-high 23 points.

The Bulldogs started to break away when Pangos took a pass from Dranginis, who turned down an open driving lane to the basket, and hit a 3-pointer. Bell added a pair of free throws and then turned in perhaps the play of the game.

Bell swiped a BYU inbounds pass and converted a three-point play at the other end, giving GU a 64-52 lead. The Cougars trimmed it to seven but Pangos nailed a corner 3, Bell penetrated and scored and Barham added another 3 to restore a 12-point lead.

“They were really all catch-and-shoot (3s),” Pangos said. “Guys got me open, I just tried to move without the ball.”

Of Bell’s performance, Pangos said, “I missed playing with the guy. He can do so many things on the court.”

As efficient as the Bulldogs were at the offensive end, their defense and improved second-half rebounding played a big part in their fifth straight win over the Cougars. BYU scored just four second-chance points in the final 20 minutes.

The Cougars made 45 percent of their shots, but they struggled from the perimeter (2 of 11 on 3s) and finished with just eight assists. They were held 19 points below their season average.

“Our first-shot defense was pretty good,” Few said.

Gonzaga committed just one turnover in the second half. The Zags finished 10 of 22 on 3s, just their second time with double-digit treys in their last 13 games. Pangos was 6 of 10 from long distance, 9 of 14 overall.

He punctuated the win with a driving layup and pull-up jumper to extend Gonzaga’s lead to 82-67 with 1:45 remaining.

“Everyone knows he’s a dagger every time (on kick-outs),” Stockton said. “That’s a great play for our team every time so that’s what I try to look for.”

Said Rose: “Locating Pangos, we had a plan for him (but) basically it came down to a couple of possessions we didn’t execute like we needed to. He got free and opened the game up a little bit.”

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