The top two teams in the West Coast Conference mix it up at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Thursday night, as the BYU Cougars come calling on the 10th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.
BYU has won seven of its last eight games to improve to 15-5 overall and 5-1 in WCC action, just off the pace set by first-place Gonzaga, which comes in at 17-2 on the season and a perfect 4-0 in conference.
The Cougars took out visiting San Diego last Saturday, 74-57, which was a nice bounce-back effort following their lone league loss at home to Saint Mary's-CA three days prior. It was also important in that it was coach Dave Rose's 200th career victory (200-59). BYU has been dominant at home this season (10-1), but has been vulnerable outside of Provo (3-2 in true road games, 2-2 in neutral- site affairs).
Gonzaga stepped out of conference last Saturday to tangle with No. 8 Butler in Indianapolis, and it was the hometown Bulldogs who prevailed in what turned out to be a 64-63 final. The loss snapped an eight-game win streak for the Zags, who will be trying to secure their ninth win in 10 home games with a victory this evening.
This bout marks only the sixth all-time meeting between BYU and Gonzaga on the hardwood, with the Cougars owning a 3-2 series advantage.
BYU is fortunate to have one of the top players in all of college basketball on its roster, as sophomore guard Tyler Haws is averaging 21.6 ppg (seventh- best nationally) while also securing 5.1 rpg, handing out 44 assists and logging 27 steals. He is a 48.6 percent shooter overall who drains his 3- pointers 39.1 percent of the time. Haws is also among the national leaders in free throw percentage (.919, sixth). Brandon Davies isn't about to let his younger teammates grab all the headlines though, as the senior is netting 18.0 ppg while leading the Cougars' rebounding effort with 7.3 rpg. He is also the team's top shot blocker with 26 and he is shooting 54.6 percent from the field. As a team, BYU averages a robust 78.3 ppg in hitting 46.1 percent of its total shots and 73.3 percent of its foul shots. The Cougars own favorable margins in both rebounding (+5.6) and turnovers (+2.3). Haws scored 25 points and Davies added 17 to lead the Cougars to their memorable win over San Diego last Saturday. In addition to the milestone reached by coach Rose, BYU gained some additional confidence as it peered ahead to this showdown with Gonzaga.
Elias Harris and Sam Dower each scored 20 points, and Kelly Olynyk tacked on 14 more, but those efforts went for naught as Gonzaga fell by a single point at Butler last weekend. The Zags hit 47.1 percent of their field goal attempts, but Butler was at 50 percent, nailing twice as many 3-pointers in the game (8-4). Gonzaga outscored its host in the paint (28-18), off turnovers (16-8) and in bench points (24-10). Olynyk continues to pace the team in scoring with his 18.0 ppg, and he ranks second in rebounds with 6.8 rpg. Harris heads that latter department with 6.9 rpg, and he produces 14.9 ppg for good measure, while Kevin Pangos rounds out the unit's double-digit scorers with 12.1 ppg. As a team, the Bulldogs are averaging a healthy 79.4 ppg while permitting 63.2 ppg. The Zags are shooting 51.2 percent from the floor, which includes a 36.5 percent showing from beyond the arc. They typically control the glass without much trouble, laying claim to a +7.3 rebounding differential, and they are +2.7 in turnover margin as well.