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What you need to know: BYU vs Gonzaga preview

Once again the Cougars will head to Spokane to face a ranked Bulldogs team.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The History

Thursday night will mark the 14th meeting between the BYU Cougars and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga has the distinct advantage as they came into the season as a highly ranked team, and are currently ranked 25/21st in the country, and already lead the series with nine wins to only four losses. The teams split the series in the regular season last year with each team winning on their opponents 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.

Spokane, WA 2015 (73-70)

Facing off against the 2nd/3rd ranked Bulldogs on their home court didn't scare the Cougars as Kyle Collinsworth scored a game high 20 points while pulling down eight rebounds. The Cougars started hot and kept the lead until late in the first half after a 7-0 run by the Bulldogs sent the teams into the half tied up at 36. In the second half the Cougars built up a double digit lead but were unable to hold off the Bulldogs as they pulled within three with under a minute left, and then within one with two seconds left. A final heave wouldn't fall and so the Cougars walked out with the 73-30 upset.

Las Vegas, NV 2015 (91-75)

With Collinsworth putting on a show as he scored a career high 28 points, the Cougars would appear to have won the game. However, a close first half turned into a second half that kept BYU in a double-digit deficit for way too long. The Cougars were able to pull back within six but could never finish the comeback and ultimately fell to the seventh ranked Bulldogs, 91-75.

The Outlook

After a good home weekend the Cougars are looking to try and take their success on the road. The Cougars have yet to put together a full game, against a quality team, in a true road environment. The Cougars offense has shown that they can put points up on the board, but the young guys will need to figure out how to do it on the road, while playing defense.

The Positives

The Cougars scored the most points all year when they put up 102 on San Francisco on Saturday. Two freshman, that aren't playing like freshman, got into the act as Nick Emery and Zac Seljaas each scored over twenty points and combined for nine of the Cougars 15 three point shots. With the young guys hitting outside shots it opens up the inside for easy buckets in the paint and offensive rebounds. As long as the three keeps falling, the Cougars offense will be hard to stop.

The Negatives

The rough part about the game last Saturday was the 92 points the Cougars gave up. It appeared that the Cougars were having so much fun playing offense that they failed to remember that defense is still part of the game. With no defense showing up, the Cougars future opponents will look to play the same game that San Francisco played, and hope for better success.

The Keys to Watch

When the Bulldogs have the ball:

Watch for the Bulldogs to utilize their talented big men, even without Przemek Karnowski. Karnowski is out for the year after back issues but the two leading scorers for Gonzaga continue to be big men. Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis sit in first or second place in points per game, rebounds, blocks, and free throw percentage. With 21.5 points per game, Wiltjer is a do it all player as he also pulls down 7.4 rebounds. Sabonis leads the team with 11 rebounds per game as these two will look to control the paint. Watch for Josh Perkins to play floor general as dishes out 3.5 assists per game.

Watch for the Cougars to play physical with Wiltjer and Sabonis as they try to throw them slightly off their games, and out of position underneath. Watch for a few more big guys to get some minutes as they try to manage the fouls that will come with a physical style of play. Watch for the Cougar guards to focus on preventing the pass inside as much as possible, helping prevent inside domination.

When the Cougars have the ball:

Watch for the Cougars to continue to share the ball with everyone on the floor. The more players that touch the ball means the further out of position the defense can get. The Cougars will continue to shoot from deep as long as they feel it can go in, especially the young Seljaas and Emery. Although the Cougars will let it fly from behind the arc, watch for BYU to try and establish an inside presence to take some of the load off the guards. Kyle Davis and Collinsworth will need to do a better job of hitting their inside shots, but if they do, it will make the Cougars offense very hard to slow down.

Watch for the Bulldogs to play a much tighter defense than the previous opponents that the Cougars have played. Watch for them to stick with the shooters and make them work for each and every shot. Watch for the interior defense to prevent positioning, and interior passes from finding their mark.

The Broadcasting Details

Time: 7 pm MST

Where: McCarthey Athletic Center-Spokane, WA


Internet: WatchESPN

Radio (BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

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