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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga, BYU play in front of lively Kennel atmosphere, produce memorable finish in last regular season meeting as WCC foes

Feb. 11, 2023 Updated Sat., Feb. 11, 2023 at 10:50 p.m.

Whether it’s a tight finish or blowout, an offensive marathon or defensive standoff, West Coast Conference games between Gonzaga and BYU have constantly produced loud gyms and intense atmospheres.

Saturday’s meeting in Spokane, potentially the last between the Bulldogs and Cougars as conference rivals, was no different.

Crowd noise at McCarthey Athletic Center ratcheted up near the end of another thrilling finish between Gonzaga and BYU, hitting a climax when Julian Strawther made consecutive 3-pointers to give the Bulldogs a lead they didn’t relinquish in an 88-81 win.

Gonzaga fans were jolted from their seats again when Rasir Bolton lined up a corner 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs a four-point cushion.

“When I first stepped foot on campus as a freshman, it was made known to me that we don’t lose to BYU,” Strawther said. “Those guys are obviously going to give us their best shots every time we play, and it’s always a different atmosphere.”

Strawther knows what it feels like to bring a crowd to its feet and also silence it, hitting the winning 3-pointer in Gonzaga’s narrow win at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, last month.

He improved his personal record against BYU to 7-0 with Saturday’s win. The Zags have won 13 of the past 14 games in the series.

“It’s something different every time we play, whether it’s down in Provo or over here in the Kennel, it’s just that energy is crazy, fans are all completely engaged, everyone’s standing up almost the whole game,” Strawther said. “I mean, nobody wants to be the team to lose and we definitely don’t want to allow them to beat us in the Kennel, especially since it’s their last time in the WCC.”

With BYU moving on from the WCC next season, Gonzaga won’t see the Cougars on a regular basis , unless the programs decide to start up a nonconference series, or the Bulldogs eventually follow their rivals from Utah to the Big 12 Conference – a move that’s gained some traction over the past four months.

Drew Timme’s second game against BYU is still seared in the senior’s memory. Gonzaga lost 91-78 during the 2019-20 season, prompting a court storming in Provo.

“That was cool, but it sucked,” Timme said. “It’s always a great place to play, they’re a great team. I’ve said it before, I think this game shouldn’t go away because they’re leaving just because it is so much fun and there’s such respected hatred between the two.”

Since losing as a freshman, Timme helped the Zags reel off seven straight wins against BYU, scoring 19 points in both games this season, averaging 21.5 points in two wins as a junior and averaging 15.3 when the GU pulled off a three-game sweep of the Cougars in 2020-21.

“We don’t like each other,” Timme said, “but there’s a mutual respect, and that’s what makes playing them so much fun is how hard both teams push each other in these types of games.”

In lots of ways, Saturday’s environment mirrored the one the teams played in Jan. 12, when Gonzaga-BYU drew 18,987 fans to the Marriott Center. The Bulldogs were heckled whenever they went to the free-throw line in Provo. A single BYU fan handled those duties on Saturday in Spokane, screaming at a variety of GU players when they stepped up to the stripe.

“It’s been a intense series when we’ve played them,” GU coach Mark Few said. “Their home court is incredible, and we’ve just had some legendary-type games and finishes against them over the years with just some great players making big-time plays, and this was no different.”

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