It’s rarely boring when BYU makes its annual visit to the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Cougars ended Gonzaga’s bid for a perfect regular season and spoiled two Senior Nights during a three-game winning streak from 2015-17. They pushed the Zags to the closing seconds in 2018 and absorbed a 34-point beatdown last season.
The teams collide again Saturday with No. 1 Gonzaga (19-1, 5-0 WCC) trying to distance itself from the Cougars (14-5, 3-1), who share second place with upstart Pacific (15-5, 3-1).
“It’s always a tough team to play,” said senior forward Killian Tillie, a contributor on GU’s 2017 squad that was 29-0 before falling to BYU 79-71 at the Kennel. “They’re really scrappy and play with a lot of toughness. They always come here and have intensity and they’re really motivated.”
That probably won’t change, even with the Cougars expected to be short-handed. Standout senior forward Yoeli Childs has missed the last three games following an open dislocation of his right index finger.
The Cougars are 6-1 with Childs, who averages 20.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. They’re 8-4 minus Childs, who was suspended for the first nine games by the NCAA.
“I’d rather play with him (in the lineup) for sure,” Tillie said. “If he doesn’t play, it doesn’t matter. We still have to come in and be aggressive.”
Nobody would suggest BYU is better without one of the top post players on the West Coast, but the Cougars have proven to be dangerous sans Childs with nonconference victories over Houston, UCLA and Virginia Tech. BYU also pushed Saint Mary’s to overtime in Moraga, California, on Jan. 9.
The Cougars are No. 33 in the NET rankings, second in the WCC behind Gonzaga at No. 4. Saint Mary’s is No. 42. Santa Clara dropped nine spots to No. 89 after losing to the Zags 104-54 on Thursday.
In its last two games, BYU has buried at least 10 3-pointers and had six players reach double digits in routs over Portland and San Diego.
Guards TJ Haws, Jake Toolson and Alex Barcello combine to average 38.4 points and 11.4 assists. They’ve hit 107 3-pointers and the Cougars feature six players with at least 19 made 3s.
“They’re good every year, that’s why they play us tough,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “They’ve got old guys, really talented guys, they can shoot it and they shoot it confidently. A lot of times they shoot it at almost five spots on the floor, which is hard to guard.”
Sophomore Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Meridian, Idaho, scored 21 points on 8-of-8 shooting in Thursday’s victory over San Diego.
Gonzaga has won five in a row in the BYU series, the last four by fairly wide margins. The Zags have won 32 straight WCC regular-season games, tied with Pepperdine (1991-93) for the longest streak in conference history.
“That means you’re really consistent, you’re focused, you don’t take anything for granted and you show up every night and take everybody’s best challenge,” Few said. “I was an assistant (at GU) against those Pepperdine teams and they were good, very good, but they weren’t carrying the ranking we have to log around on our shoulders.”
Five-star recruit Banchero visiting GU
Paolo Banchero, No. 3 in 247sports’ composite rankings in the 2021 class, is visiting Gonzaga this weekend and expected to attend Saturday’s game.
The talented, 6-9 forward at Seattle’s O’Dea High is considering GU, Washington, Baylor, Memphis, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Tennessee and Georgetown.
- Nathan Bittle, a 6-10 center from Central Point, Oregon, is expected to visit Gonzaga on Jan. 25, when the Zags entertain Pacific. Bittle is No. 14 in the 2021 class.
Former Zag Jesse Wade sidelined
BYU sophomore guard Jesse Wade, a transfer from Gonzaga, has been sidelined with a torn patellar tendon and is not expected to play this season.
Wade averaged 1.4 points and appeared in 19 games with the Zags in 2018. He sat out last season under transfer rules.
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