The second-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs can claim their 10th outright West Coast Conference title if they can knock off the BYU Cougars at the Marriott Center on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs won the first meeting between the two teams this season, 83-63, in Spokane on Jan. 24 to take a 3-2 lead in the all-time series, and they have already secured at least a share of their 12th WCC regular-season crown in the last 13 years.
Gonzaga, which has already locked up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament, has won 10 straight games, the most recent of which being an 81-50 rout of visiting San Diego last Saturday. As a result, the Zags are 27-2 overall, 14-0 in conference, and they are poised to potentially earn their first No. 1 national ranking following top-ranked Indiana's loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night.
BYU has quietly achieved another 20-win campaign, the Cougars reaching that milestone after taking out visiting Utah State a week ago Tuesday. The team then played at Saint Mary's two days later and fell to the Gaels in a 64-57 final, dropping its overall record to 20-9 and its WCC mark to 9-5. BYU had won two straight prior to the recent setback, and it will be trying to improve an already stellar home record (13-2) by upsetting Gonzaga in this one.
Gonzaga has had very little trouble imposing its will at both ends of the court this season, averaging 78.6 ppg while allowing only 60.2 ppg -- both of which lead the conference. The team is hitting its field goals a sizzling 50.9 percent of the time, with 38.6 percent of its 3-point attempts finding the bottom of the net. Conversely, foes are shooting just 38.9 percent from the floor, while being outrebounded by 6.2 rpg. Kelly Olynyk continues to state his case for WCC Player of the Year honors, as he is averaging 19.6 points and 7.4 caroms per contest. Elias Harris (13.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Kevin Pangos (12.1 ppg, 2.6 apg) round out the unit's double-digit scorers, and it was Pangos who led the team in the recent win over San Diego, as he hit 3-of-5 3- point tries on his way to 18 points. Olynyk tallied 14 points and nine boards, but was guilty of seven of the team's 12 turnovers, and Harris chipped in with 12 points and five rebounds. The Bulldogs shot 54.5 percent from the floor, nailing eight treys, and they easily won the battle on the boards, 38-22, while holding the Toreros to 35.7 percent field goal efficiency, which included a dismal 2-of-14 showing from beyond the arc.
BYU has its own star in Tyler Haws, as the talented guard is shooting 47.6 percent from the field, 37.9 percent from long range, in averaging a league- leading 20.9 ppg. He also adds 4.7 rpg and more than two assists and one steal per outing to his impressive stat line. Brandon Davies is also enjoying a tremendous campaign, as he is hitting 53.8 percent of his total shots in netting 18.0 ppg, to go with his club-best 7.7 rpg. Matt Carlino rounds out the unit's double-digit scorers with 10.8 ppg, but he is just 29.2 percent accurate from beyond the arc despite taking more 3-point attempts (113) than any of his teammates. BYU owns favorable margins in both rebounding (+2.9) and turnovers (+2.7), but the team was beaten in both areas by Saint Mary's the last time out, both of which contributed to the seven-point loss. The Cougars got a huge effort from Davies, as he finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists, but Haws was the only other player to hit for double digits in the setback, as he scored 12 points on just 4-of-10 shooting from the field. As a team, BYU converted 51.2 percent of its total shots, but missed two-thirds of its 3-point tries (3-of-9), and was outscored at the charity stripe, 22-12.