Gonzaga faces BYU with one last regular-season goal remaining
Feb. 23, 2018 Updated Fri., Feb. 23, 2018 at 7:11 p.m.
Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura (21) and BYU forward Luke Worthington (41) compete for a rebound during a NCAA college basketball game, Sat., Feb. 3, 2018, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)Buy a print of this photo
PROVO, Utah – Gonzaga’s regular-season checklist isn’t quite complete.
The sixth-ranked Zags secured at least a co-West Coast Conference championship with Thursday’s road win over San Diego. That’s 17 shared or outright crowns in 18 years.
Now they’re looking to fly solo. A victory in Saturday’s regular-season finale over nemesis BYU would clinch an outright championship – that would be 15 in 18 years – and the top seed in the WCC Tournament. Saint Mary’s snags a piece of the title and the No. 1 seed with a win over Santa Clara and a GU loss.
“We didn’t celebrate too much (after San Diego) because we’re trying to win it outright,” senior forward Johnathan Williams said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game in a tough environment.”
BYU, which has locked up third place, has had a habit of handing the Zags painful regular-season losses. The Cougars (22-8, 11-6 WCC) spoiled Gonzaga’s run at an unbeaten regular season in last year’s finale. They won three consecutive years at the McCarthey Athletic Center, including 2015 Senior Night, prior to the Zags’ 68-60 victory three weeks ago.
Gonzaga has returned the favor with three consecutive wins at the 18,987-seat Marriott Center and owns a 4-0 record versus BYU at the WCC Tournament. The Zags’ victory over San Diego hiked their WCC road winning streak to 23 games.
“I remember last year it was crazy,” GU sophomore forward Killian Tillie said of GU’s 85-75 win in Provo. “It’s going to be fun to play in this environment. We’re going to have to stay together.”
Both teams have injury concerns. Williams rolled his ankle late in the first half against the Toreros but remained in the game and was effective with 11 points and nine rebounds.
“Ice it up and see how it feels (Friday),” Williams said. “When you hurt it playing it’s kind of warm, but it gets sore once it starts to cool down a little bit.”
BYU point guard TJ Haws tweaked his ankle late in Thursday’s win at Portland but was still able to contribute a key 3-pointer.
Gonzaga won the first meeting by dominating the last 2-plus minutes. Zach Norvell Jr.’s clutch 3-pointer with 2:19 remaining snapped a 59-all tie and the Zags scored the final six points.
BYU sophomore forward Yoeli Childs had 14 points and 11 rebounds but was scoreless over the final 15:50. Haws dropped three 3-pointers and scored 22 points. Forward Luke Worthington posted a career-high 16 points, but leading scorer Elijah Bryant was limited to four.
“They have some really good players that are hard to stop,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “I’m sure it’ll be much like this one (San Diego).”
Sophomore Rui Hachimura carried the Zags in crunch time Thursday with 10 points in the last 4:15. The comeback win kept Gonzaga one game in front of Saint Mary’s.
“Last year I was here but didn’t play much,” said Hachimura, who leads the Zags in scoring in WCC games (13.0) despite ranking sixth in minutes played. “Now I play and we won the championship so that feels good.”
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