PROVO, Utah – There are road games, and then there are road games in settings that the visiting head coach calls “electric” and home head coach predicts will be “sheer insanity.”
Welcome to Gonzaga-BYU on Saturday, the first clash of ranked teams at the Marriott Center since San Diego State’s 2011 visit during Jimmer Fredette’s heyday.
The building, which holds nearly 19,000, is one of the loudest venues in college basketball, but the matchup should truly dial up the volume.
No. 2 Gonzaga (27-1, 13-0 West Coast Conference) has so many active streaks going, it’s hard to keep track of them all. The ones that pertain to Saturday’s battle between the WCC’s top two teams: Gonzaga is riding a 19-game winning streak, the nation’s longest road winning streak at 18 games, 40 consecutive WCC regular-season wins and six in a row in the series since the Cougars ended the Zags’ bid at a perfect regular season in 2017.
No. 23 BYU (22-7, 11-3) has won seven straight conference games, its longest streak since joining the WCC in 2011-12. It’s Senior Night for seven Cougars, including the starting trio of Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws and Jake Toolson and their combined 51 points per game.
The Zags are trying to maintain a grip on the top seed in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region. The Cougars are considered a seven seed in several bracket projections. They could cement a spot in the tournament and jump up a seed line or two with an upset.
“As good a college basketball environment as there is in the country,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It’ll be electric. Obviously, BYU is having a phenomenal year, technically they’re still in the league race. There’s a lot on the line. It’s an opportunity for a Quad 1 win for us.”
Throw in the entertainment value of two of the nation’s best offenses, and it’s no wonder BYU students started setting up tents outside the Marriott Center following Thursday’s win over Santa Clara.
Both teams boast impressive stats. The Zags lead the country in scoring (87.9) with BYU 13th (80.2). The Cougars are first in 3-point percentage (42.2) with Gonzaga sixth (39.4). Gonzaga is second in field-goal percentage at 51.6, BYU third at 50.1. The Cougars rank fifth in assists (17.5), GU is seventh (17.1).
Gonzaga is No. 3 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, BYU No. 18.
“I think they are the best team in the country right now, and we get a shot at them here and it’s on Senior Night,” BYU first-year coach Mark Pope said. “It will be insanity.”
Neither team is at full strength, but they’re as close as they’ve been in a while. Killian Tillie (ankle) returned from a one-game absence to score 22 points in Gonzaga’s 71-54 victory over San Francisco on Thursday.
BYU will have forwards Childs and Gavin Baxter, both of whom missed Gonzaga’s 92-69 win last month in Spokane, but is without senior Dalton Nixon (ankle). Baxter is slowly working his way back from a shoulder injury, logging 31 minutes in the past four games.
Childs, averaging 20.8 points and 8.6 rebounds, ranks sixth in scoring and second in boards in program history. He’s knocked down 51.4% behind the 3-point line after shooting in the low 30s the previous two seasons.
“He’s real athletic and can do many things on the court,” Gonzaga sophomore forward Filip Petrusev said. “You get ready differently than last time, try to get hm away from the basket where he’s most dangerous. On offense, just do the same, try to attack him and get him off the court.”
It’ll be interesting to see how often Gonzaga double-teams Childs, which could limit his point total but opens up space for 3-point threats Alex Barcello (50%), Toolson (45.7%) and Haws (38.1%). The trio have hit 180 of the team’s 307 3s.
Santa Clara chose to run 3-point shooters off the line and not double Childs. The tactic worked, to some degree. The Cougars made a season-low three 3-pointers, but they scored on 14 of their final 15 possessions to pull away 85-75.
Haws took advantage of driving lanes to finish with 28 points and nine assists.
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