PROVO, Utah – Gonzaga is catching BYU at the perfect time. The reeling Cougars have dropped two straight home games for the first time since the 2004-05 season and their prolific offense has hit a speed bump.
Gonzaga is catching BYU at the worst possible time. The Cougars are highly motivated to get back into the WCC men’s basketball race and enhance their NCAA tournament resume with a win against the 24th–ranked Bulldogs.
We’ll find out which scenario plays out when the programs collide for the first time as WCC rivals tonight at the Marriott Center. They met in last year’s NCAA tournament with BYU, behind Jimmer Fredette’s 34 points, routing the Bulldogs 89-67. Fredette is averaging 8.6 points as a rookie with the Sacramento Kings.
“Jimmer was an entity you just don’t see night in, night out,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “The pace they play with and the freedom with which they shoot the ball and they have two interior guys, (Noah) Hartsock and (Brandon) Davies, that are legitimate high-level players.
“It’s a league game now against a very good opponent, that’s how we’re approaching it. We want to stay in the hunt for a league championship.”
Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1) needs to win to keep pace with Saint Mary’s (21-2, 10-0), which thumped the Cougars 80-66 last Saturday. The Bulldogs have had a week to prepare after outlasting Portland last Thursday.
“We’ve been here before,” center Robert Sacre said. “We’ve always had to fight our way through conference. Everyone thinks it’s been given to us every year, but we’ve always had to fight and struggle and go through the highs and lows.”
Gonzaga is accustomed to playing in large venues, but it’s usually at an NBA arena during the NCAA tournament or for a marquee nonconference matchup. The Marriott Center seats 22,700, the third largest on-campus venue behind Syracuse’s Carrier Dome and Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. Players and coaches are taken to the floor level via elevator.
BYU is 176-19 at home the last 12-plus seasons, including three losses this season.
“It’ll be different than any atmosphere in the WCC other than ours,” Sacre said. “Saint Mary’s is a tough place to play, but 22,000 is a lot of people. It’s going to be crazy to be in the WCC and play in a venue like that.”