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Gonzaga takes another shot at caging BYU Cougars in Kennel

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 2, 2018, 5:03 p.m.

Winning streaks are common at the McCarthey Athletic Center, compiled by a Gonzaga basketball team with one of the nation’s best home-court winning percentages since the cozy 6,000-seat arena opened in 2004.

Meet the uncommon: the McCarthey menace known as BYU.

The Cougars have won three consecutive times at the Kennel. They’ve beaten the best team in Gonzaga history, ending the top-ranked Zags’ bid at a perfect 2017 regular season. They’ve knocked off a one-loss, third-ranked GU squad in 2015. They’ve spoiled Gonzaga’s Senior Night twice.

“Last year they came in and put a little damper on our season,” GU redshirt freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. said.

No. 14 Gonzaga (20-4, 10-1 West Coast Conference) can’t change past outcomes, but it can put a stop to BYU’s improbable streak of McCarthey success when the teams tangle Saturday night.

The Cougars (18-6, 7-4) are coming off a disappointing road loss to Loyola Marymount, which had only one WCC win before springing the upset Thursday.

“I’m sure I’m speaking for everyone in this locker room, we don’t want to lose any more games on our home floor, especially BYU,” said GU senior guard Silas Melson, who is 0-3 at home against the Cougars. “They’re a tough team. We’ve got to match that intensity, even be better than that. We’ve got a fight coming up Saturday. We’re going to put our hard hats on.”

BYU has a new look this season, in personnel and in style. Center Eric Mika, a huge factor in last year’s upset, elected to turn pro. Sophomore Yoeli Childs has emerged as one of the best bigs in the conference. He averages 17.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2 blocks.

Junior guard Elijah Bryant averages 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder’s efficiency is particularly impressive. He’s close to joining the 50-40-90 club (50 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-pointers, 90 percent at the free-throw line).

Bryant is shooting 51.3 percent from the field, 44.9 percent beyond the arc and 89.2 at the foul line. He scored 14 points and did a nice defensive job on Nigel Williams-Goss in last year’s game at the Kennel.

“Childs has come into his own,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose teams are 179-15 at home since 2004. “He’s got a lot of game, around the hoop, face-up, can shoot 3s, and obviously BYU does as good as anybody giving guys the freedom and confidence to really come at you.

“Bryant kind of got going at the end of last year and you could see where that was eventually going to lead. He’s a big guy with guard-like skills. He gets going downhill and he’s tough to stop.”

The Cougars have been one of the nation’s top offenses annually and they’re still productive at 75.2 points per game. Defense has been an issue, but this year’s crew ranks among the best in the WCC.

“They’re a little different from previous years,” Melson said. “They look a lot better to me. They play tough, defend a lot better, take care of the ball a little better.”

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