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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga schedule change: BYU replaces Santa Clara on Thursday

Jan. 5, 2021 Updated Wed., Jan. 6, 2021 at 2:15 p.m.

Drew Timme celebrates on the bench during Gonzaga’s 92-69 home win over BYU last January.  (Associated Press)
Drew Timme celebrates on the bench during Gonzaga’s 92-69 home win over BYU last January. (Associated Press)

What was it Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few has been saying for months about being flexible and nimble when it comes to scheduling during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Hence, now playing: Gonzaga vs. BYU on Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center. One of the marquee matchups on the West Coast Conference calendar has been moved up since both teams were without their scheduled dance partners Thursday.

The game is set for 5:30 p.m. on ESPN. That time slot opened up on ESPN’s broadcast schedule after the cancellation of the UConn-Baylor women’s game due to COVID-19 issues.

BYU was scheduled to entertain Pacific, but the Cougars announced Monday the game was postponed. The Zags were scheduled to face Santa Clara, which has been on a COVID-related pause.

“This is all new territory for everybody,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said, “but there were a lot of conversations between the league office, our staffs and coach Few and (BYU) coach (Mark) Pope got together. We couldn’t play because of our opponent and they couldn’t play because of their opponent.

“It was just two head coaches getting on the phone and saying we have to do this. Coach Few has been very proactive from Day 1 (with), ‘Hey, let’s find a way to play,’ as long as we can do it safely.”

The Zags and Cougars were scheduled to meet Feb. 6 in Spokane and in the regular-season finale Feb. 27 in Provo, Utah. There has been speculation the teams could play three times, but Roth said, “it’s way too early to tell on that.”

One potential catch is BYU has played the NCAA-maximum of 11 nonconference contests. The Cougars’ first three WCC games (Pepperdine, San Diego and Pacific) have been postponed. They haven’t played since defeating Weber State 87-79 on Dec. 23.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga revamped its nonconference schedule in response to COVID issues and played nine games. The Zags thumped San Francisco on Saturday, but four other WCC games were postponed.

It’s possible Gonzaga and Santa Clara could play on Feb. 6, an open date on the Broncos’ schedule. The teams are scheduled to meet Feb. 11 in the Bay Area.

“That’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get to it,” Roth said of the possibility of three meetings with BYU. “A lot of things can happen on the positive side and on the negative side (that could impact future schedules).”

The top-ranked Zags (10-0) have a 48.9% chance of going unbeaten in the regular season, according to KenPom’s analytics. The Cougars (9-2) were picked second behind Gonzaga in the WCC preseason poll and they’re considered one of the biggest challenges on GU’s remaining schedule.

BYU handed Gonzaga its only conference loss last season with a 91-78 win in Provo in February. The Cougars won three straight over GU in the McCarthey Athletic Center from 2015-17, the latter ending the Zags’ bid at an unbeaten regular season.

The Cougars are No. 51 in the NET rankings, two spots in front of Saint Mary’s. The Zags face the Gaels on Jan. 16 and Feb. 18.

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