Zags rout Cougars for sixth straight WCC title

LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga seemed headed for a dog fight with BYU to get a sixth straight West Coast Conference title. Once the Bulldogs started soaring, there was no stopping them.

Racing out for dunks and 3-pointers in transition, No. 6 Gonzaga overwhelmed BYU during a massive run to blow out the Cougars

74-54 on Tuesday in the WCC tournament championship game.

“That’s probably as good a run I’ve been a part of in 28 years at Gonzaga, definitely in 19 years as head coach,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Fantastic defense that led to great offense. It was just a thing of beauty to see.”

Gonzaga (30-4), the regular-season champion, locked into a defensive battle with BYU (24-10) for most of the first half. The Zags revved it up at both ends and turned it into a rout, reeling off a halftime-spanning 36-6 run to win their 17th WCC overall title.

Killian Tillie had 22 points, Zach Norvell Jr. added 17 and the Bulldogs held BYU to 35 percent shooting to win their 17th straight conference tournament game.

The dominant title performance should boost Gonzaga’s chances for a high NCAA Tournament seed and possibly a go-out-on-top end to the Zags’ dominance in the WCC — Gonzaga is in talks to join the Mountain West Conference, possibly next season.

Yoeli Childs had 20 points to cap a stellar tournament for BYU — the Cougars were coming off an upset of second-seeded Saint Mary’s in the semifinals.

“Tonight, they were a handful for us,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “It’s tough when things get that lopsided. It’s really tough when they get it going like that.”

BYU was able to match Gonzaga shot for shot for most of a first half dominated by defense. The Zags found a little more room to operate offensively late in the half, closing on an 11-2 run to go up 38-29.

“For the first 17, 18 minutes, it was a real battle,” said BYU’s Payton Dastrup, who had 11 points. “They seemed to flip a switch and create some havoc.”PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell keeps saying he wants to stay with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers keep saying they want to keep one of the NFL’s best running backs in the fold for years to come.

They have until July 16 to make it happen.

The Steelers placed the exclusive rights franchise tag on the two-time All-Pro for a second straight spring on Tuesday, putting Bell’s long-term status with the club up in the air.

Bell, a two-time All Pro, accounted for 1,946 total yards and 11 touchdowns for the AFC North champions in 2017. Both Bell and Steelers management said after the season they hoped to get a contract extension done quickly, but failed to do so by Tuesday’s deadline for teams to use the franchise tag.

Bell is scheduled to make $14.54 million in 2018 if he signs the franchise tender and the two sides are unable to reach an agreement on a new deal. He skipped offseason workouts and training camp last summer before signing the tender on the eve of the regular season. The absence led to a sluggish start, though he was an indispensable part of Pittsburgh’s offense once again, breaking his own club record by catching 85 passes.

The 25-year-old made the 2017 All-Pro team at the “flex” position, one he considered a tribute to his versatility. Bell said repeatedly over the past year he believes he’s different than other backs in the league and wants to be paid accordingly. He is arguably the best receiving back in the NFL and he’s averaged nearly 25 touches a game in five seasons, though he’s only been healthy at the end of the year twice. Bell has twice been suspended by the NFL for violations of the substance abuse policy.

Bell turned down a long-term deal with the Steelers last summer and told ESPN in January he would consider retiring if the Steelers used the franchise tag on him again. He backtracked a bit during the Pro Bowl when he said he believed a new contract was in the works. It was a sentiment echoed by both Steelers president Art Rooney II and general manager Kevin Colbert early in the offseason.

Bell tweeted Monday that regardless of the circumstances he wants to remain with the Steelers.

“Pittsburgh: the city that took in a 21-year old kid from small-town Ohio, the city I battled thru adversity in, the city that I became a man in,” Bell tweeted. “I love everything about being a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I want nothing more than to finish the rest of my career in Pitt!”