The BYU basketball squad travels to the snowy conclave of Spokane, Washington to take on #10 Gonzaga on Thursday. While the Cougs bounced back nicely from the heartbreaking loss to St. Mary's with a win over San Diego, the Ghost of Dellavadova still looms large.
The Zags suffered a similar vomit-inducing last second loss to Butler just a few days ago. The difference? This will be Gonzaga's first game since the loss and you can expect the McCarthey Center will be rockin as GU tries to shake off the cobwebs.
Seeing that I attend school at Gonzaga, I am a special witness to the Zag community and how they view BYU. Coming off the Jimmer Beatdown in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Bulldog fans were anticipating the Cougars to remain at those heights. Instead, BYU has taken a small step backward. The Cougars failed to reach the WCC title game last season and arguably look to be the third best team in the WCC again this season. A win on Thursday night would go a long way to bringing BYU's persona back to pre-WCC levels.
Gonzaga has been led in 2013 by a face unknown to most outside the program. Center Kelly Olynyk, who looks like he most certainly voted in the affirmative in the State's recent marijuana referendum, has been absolutely terrific. His look is a fusion between former GU great Adam Morrison and your local struggling musician. During the offseason, former Gonzaga great John Stockton commented that, after a summer workout with Olynyk, he thought he would be GU's best player in the coming year.
Well, mark one up for the Hall-of-Famer. Let's take a look at just how good Kelly O has been this season. The Canadian averages 18 points, nearly seven rebounds, and does so while playing just 25 minutes per game. You don't need Ken Pomeroy to tell you that is about as efficient as you can get. In fact, he's second nationally. Olynyk is shooting a scorching 65 percent from the field and has delivered in the clutch time and again during the 2013 campaign.
With Olynyk having such a breakout year, it is strangely easy to forget about the other talent on the roster. Gonzaga is home to the one of the best backcourts in the West, with All-WCC First Team selection Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. Additionally, Elias Harris, who has been in Spokane since the Carter Administration, continues to produce, albeit inconsistently. Add guys like Guy Landri Edy, Sam Dower, David Stockton, and new man Prez Karnowski and Gonzaga has a group that can play just about any style you need. And a group that can certainly reach a Final Four. (No comment on Mark Few's ability to get them there.)
BYU has struggled with tournament-caliber teams all season. The Saint Mary's result was disappointing with a touch of optimism team has made great strides over the past month and a half. To score an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament, BYU needs to beat a tournament team. Tyler Haws continues to do Tyler Haws things and Dave Rose is masterfully finding out just how this current squad ticks. Just how much of a postseason threat can this BYU team be? We will find out tonight.