PROVO, Utah – Yet another big game has arrived on Gonzaga’s schedule.
The Zags, 14-0 against West Coast Conference teams in fourth place and below but 0-3 against Saint Mary’s and BYU, takes another shot at the Cougars at 5 p.m. on Saturday in a regular-season finale. Both teams possess title ambitions, and they’re not alone.
Gonzaga’s last big game didn’t go so well. The Zags (22-7, 14-3) are tied for first with Saint Mary’s (23-4, 14-3) after missing out on a chance to take control of the conference a week ago when the Gaels won at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
BYU (22-8, 13-4) can claim a piece of the crown with a win and a Saint Mary’s loss at San Francisco. The Cougars, who rallied from 13 points down in the second half to edge the Zags 69-68 in mid-January, are the hottest team in the conference with a five-game winning streak.
“Another huge opportunity we have to take advantage of,” Gonzaga sophomore guard Silas Melson said. “We blew a lot of them. It’s the last game of the regular season so we have to go all-out.”
The Zags can clinch at least a share of the title with a victory, but a loss drops them to the third seed in the WCC tournament. If the Zags and Gaels both win, Saint Mary’s will be the top seed and Gonzaga No. 2.
“It definitely hasn’t been the smoothest ride but that’s what makes the best journey when you have rough patches and bumps in the road,” senior guard Kyle Dranginis said. “I feel good coming into Saturday.”
Gonzaga has won or shared 14 of the last 15 WCC championships.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to express to them,” coach Mark Few said. “We’ve had some teams that have been here before, that have won it on the last weekend and the last night.”
BYU racked up 30 assists in Thursday’s 99-81 win over Portland. Kyle Collinsworth, one of three who will be honored on Senior Night, posted his 11th career triple-double. He torched Gonzaga for 18 of his 20 points in the second half of the first meeting.
The Cougars have scored at least 91 points in four of their last five games.
“We have to control our live-ball turnovers and get our defense set in transition because they’re as good in transition as any team in the country,” Few said. “And we have to do a better job of battling Collinsworth. He’s really a difficult matchup for us.”
Kyle Wiltjer scored 35 points in the January matchup, but Domantas Sabonis – limited to 21 minutes with foul trouble – had just five points. Gonzaga’s guards combined to make 2 of 12 3-point attempts.
“There’s going to be a lot of hard moments, maybe the hardest moments of the season, but we have to stay together,” Sabonis said. “If we stay together, everything will work out.”
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