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BYU stands out as last obstacle in Gonzaga’s pursuit of unblemished regular season

Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss shoots against BYU’s Yoeli Childs on Feb. 2 in Provo, Utah. (Jeff Swinger / Associated Press)
Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss shoots against BYU’s Yoeli Childs on Feb. 2 in Provo, Utah. (Jeff Swinger / Associated Press)

BYU was Gonzaga’s first test after the Zags reached No. 1 last month.

GU won 85-75 in Provo, Utah, but was pushed by the Cougars.

The Zags are still No. 1 as they attempt to make history Saturday but that would require a win over BYU, which holds an edge in the series’ recent history at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Gonzaga (29-0, 17-0 WCC) is trying to become the 29th team to complete an undefeated regular season since the first NCAA tournament in 1939. BYU (20-10, 11-6) has won the last two meetings on GU’s home floor, including a 73-70 victory in 2015 over the 29-1 Zags on Senior Night. Saturday’s tipoff has been moved to 7:15 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN.

“So they’ll come in with a lot of confidence in our building, which most people don’t always do,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team fell at home to Saint Mary’s last year on Senior Night. “As hard as BYU plays and as fast as they play, with (Eric) Mika inside and (TJ) Haws and (Nick) Emery on the outside, that’s quite a challenge for us.”

The Zags have steamrolled 17 conference opponents by an average of 28.2 points. Ten-point road wins over BYU and Saint Mary’s have been Gonzaga’s closest WCC contests.

In Few’s 18 seasons as head coach, only Kentucky (2015), Wichita State (2014) and Saint Joseph’s (2004) went unscathed through the regular season. Articles about the possibility of GU running the regular-season table began in late December when the Zags reached 12-0, the best start in program history.

“It is rare. It’s history,” sophomore guard Josh Perkins said. “To have an opportunity to be part of it with these special guys, it’s something I can’t put into words.

“We’ve worked so hard. A lot of new faces, we’ve accomplished a lot of tasks. For it to show like that, it would be awesome.”

The Cougars handled Portland 97-78 on Thursday, giving coach Dave Rose his 12 straight season with at least 20 wins. Sophomore guard Elijah Bryant poured in a career-high 39 points. Freshman forward Yoeli Childs (9.5 points, 8.5 rebounds) missed the game with an ankle injury.

Sophomore forward Eric Mika leads the Cougars at 19.9 points and 9.3 rebounds. Haws and Emery have combined to make 129 3-pointers. Bryant was shooting just 23.4 percent beyond the arc before draining 7 of 12 against the Pilots.

“To finish the regular season 30-0 would be a huge accomplishment,” Zags guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “We’re going to come into the game like we have every other game, looking to get a win.”

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