Saturday night will mark the 12th meeting between the BYU Cougars and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga has the distinct advantage as they are ranked 3rd in the country and already lead the series with eight wins to only three losses. The teams split the series in the regular season last year with each team winning on their home court. The Bulldogs once again pulled off the win in post season play as they beat the Cougars in the WCC conference tournament championship game. In the first match-up this year the Cougars had their chances but eventually fell to the Bulldogs in Provo.
Provo, UT 2014 (87-80 Loss)
Facing the Bulldogs in the first conference game of the season, BYU overcame a 16 point deficit in the first half but couldn't pull out the win. The Cougars started slow, falling behind 16-4 early in the game. The Cougars pulled within seven before giving up a run that put them down 31-15.
Again the Cougars rallied back with an 11-2 run and managed to tie the game on a 3-point shot at the halftime buzzer. BYU would take their first lead of the game early in the second half as Haws hit three free throws to go up 46-43. The lead would stay with the Cougars until Kevin Pangos took over the game with eight straight points. One more 8-0 run by the Bulldogs solidified their lead and BYU couldn't get any closer than three.
The Cougars had their chances but turnovers in the last two minutes allowed the Bulldogs to put the game away from the free-throw line. Haws and Anson Winder led the Cougars with 17 points apiece and Collinsworth added his second triple-double in the loss.
Las Vegas, NV 2014 (75-64 Loss)
With an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, the Cougars and Bulldogs faced off in the WCC championship game in Las Vegas. The Cougars were outmanned early as the Bulldogs started strong and never looked back. In the first half the Bulldogs built a 19 point lead and went into the locker room up by 17. The second half didn't go much better as the Cougars found themselves down by 20 multiple times and it wasn't until the last few minutes of the game that they pulled within single digits. Pulling within eight was as close as they came before dropping the game 75-64. Tyler Haws led all scorers with 24 points and joined Kyle Collinsworth on the all-tournament team.
After coming back from eight down at the half, the Cougars were able to leave Portland with a double digit win. As poorly as the Cougars played in the first half, they played equally as well in the second half. The Cougars showed that they could adjust to the game and the officials down the stretch. The win was key in keeping their bubble hopes alive as a loss would have ended NCAA Tournament hopes.
The Cougars played an inspired second half against the Pilots on the defensive end, causing 11 of the Pilots 19 turnovers in the second period. Of those 11 turnovers, 10 of them were steals by the Cougars. The defense also kept Portland to a shooting percentage of less than 35% in the second half and only 28 points. If the Cougars can find a full game with this type of defense, they can play with anyone and find away to secure a spot in the Tournament.
The Cougars ended up losing the rebounding battle by two and once again had post players in foul trouble. Corbin Kaufusi fouled out after only 15 minutes logged, Ryan Andrus ended up with four fouls in 20 minutes and Luke Worthington ended with three fouls in three minutes. Kaufusi and Andrus did combine for eight rebounds, but that was the only rebound production that the Cougars received from their big guys and this must change if they want to stay with Gonzaga or the teams in a tournament environment.
The Keys to Watch
When the Bulldogs have the ball:
Watch for the Bulldogs offense to work like a well-oiled machine. The Bulldogs have only lost one game, to #3 Arizona in OT, and will be bringing their 12th ranked offense into the game. Not only do they score points, they also have the top team shooting percentage in the country at almost 53%. Junior forward Kyle Wiltjer continues to lead the team in scoring with 17.4 points per game. Wiltjer had another complete game against the Cougars in the first meeting as he had 24 points, five rebounds, two assists, and a block.
Even though Wiltjer will be a focus for the Cougars, don't forget about the other Bulldogs as three others score in double digits, and one other is on the fringe. As good as Wiltjer is, the Bulldogs are still led by their senior point guard Kevin Pangos who is averaging five assists per game to go along with 12 points. Pangos has the ability to take over a game and did so against BYU when he finished with 21 points and seven assists. Watch for Gonzaga to be efficient with and without the ball as they are methodical at wearing teams down.
Watch for the Cougars to try and pressure the Bulldogs into bad or off-balance shots, trying to bring down Gonzaga's shooting percentage. The Bulldogs only turn over the ball 11 times per game, so watch for the Cougars to take advantage of every chance they get on the defensive side of the court, getting their hands in the lanes and boxing out for the defensive rebounds.
When the Cougars have the ball:
Watch for the Cougars to force the tempo of the game. The Cougars are still the top-ranked scoring team in the country at 84 points per game, and reached 80 in the first match-up. BYU will hope to shoot the ball more effectively this time around as they shot under 40% from the field and 28% from the three. Watch for the BYU post players to get after the rebounds and give the Cougars a chance at second chance points that may be critical in a close game.
Watch for the Bulldogs to keep the Cougars under the 80 point mark as Gonzaga has a top 40 scoring defense and will make sure that Haws doesn't beat them. They held Haws to 17 last game and forced the Cougars to spread the ball around. Watch for the Bulldogs to force the ball out of the hands of Haws, Collinsworth, and Winder as they allow a streaky Chase Fischer and the other role players a chance to step up.
The Broadcasting Details
Time: 8 pm MST
Where: McCarthey Athletic Center-Spokane, WA
Radio (BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143
Listen Live via Internet (KSL): Click Here