February 27, 2013 in Sports

No. 2 Gonzaga faces big challenge

With top spot in sight, Bulldogs first must handle BYU
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Guard Gary Bell, Jr. and Gonzaga raced away from BYU at the Kennel on Jan. 24.
(Full-size photo)

COMING UP
Thursday:
Gonzaga at BYU, 8 p.m.
TV: ESPN2
Radio: 1510-AM

PROVO, Utah – There are no guarantees in men’s college basketball this season, as demonstrated by an upset-filled last month.

That applies to No. 2 Gonzaga, which has adeptly sidestepped the Top 10 upset craze to reach the highest Associated Press ranking in program history. After No. 1 Indiana lost to Minnesota on Tuesday, the natural assumption was that Gonzaga was next in line for the top spot.

It’s entirely possible, though the Bulldogs (27-2, 14-0 WCC) first must deal with a serious challenge against BYU (20-9, 9-5) Thursday inside the 20,900-seat Marriott Center. Even with wins Thursday and Saturday against Portland, Gonzaga could get passed by No. 3 Duke, which has dates with Virginia Thursday and No. 5 Miami on Saturday.

Some have suggested Miami could even climb to No. 1 with a spotless week. Indiana lost to Illinois in early February and remained No. 1, but that seems doubtful this time.

“We’ve had a great run over these last 14 years,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told ESPN. “There really isn’t that much left that we haven’t done. That (No. 1 ranking) would certainly be something to cross off the list.”

A No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament would be another milestone for Gonzaga, which was a second seed in 2004 and went 1-1. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has GU as the third No. 1 seed and most believe the Zags will remain a top seed if they win out. However, USA Today bracket guru Patrick Stevens suggested GU could end up a No. 2 seed, partly because of the perception of the WCC as a weaker conference.

“There’s not a whole lot they can do the rest of the way,” Stevens said. “Gonzaga will probably wind up very solidly on the 2-line. There’s not a whole lot you can quibble with them. They’re 5-2 against the Top 50, 10-2 against the Top 100, 13-1 in road/neutral settings. At the same time, for most of the last two months of the season, there’s only so much they could gain.”

One certainty tonight: A Gonzaga win clinches an outright WCC championship. The Bulldogs handled BYU 83-63 a month ago, limiting 6-foot-5 guard Tyler Haws (20.9 ppg) to just one point and All-WCC forward Brandon Davies to 14 points, two during a first half that ended with Gonzaga on top 40-21.

The Cougars have dropped three of their last five and could use a marquee win to get back on track as they pursue their seventh straight 25-win season.

“The level of desperation and intensity is going to be at an all-time high,” Few said of facing the Cougars. “We’re going to have to match that. That’s a physical team and they run a couple different types of zone (defenses) that we have to get comfortable against.”

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