BYU heads to Spokane Saturday to play the no. 14 Gonzaga Bulldogs for this first time this season (8 p.m. MST on ESPN2). I traded questions with Peter Woodburn from Slipper Still Fits to bring you the inside scoop on the Zags (find our end of the Q&A, here). Read on to find out what you can expect from the much-anticipated meeting between the Cougars and the Bulldogs.
VTF: So BYU has beaten Gonzaga at the McCarthey Athletic Center three times in a row. Basketball aside, does this fact worry you?
Peter Woodburn: One-hundred percent it does. Personally, for both fanbases, I’d prefer if we would just win on our home courts. On one hand, it does make for some really exciting contests. On the other hand, the sadness. The overwhelming sadness. I don’t get how BYU has been able to do it, but they’ve been able to do it—better than any other team in the WCC. There is a comfort of just assuming you are going to win every game at home, but Zag fans would be lazy if they do that against BYU.
VTF: We’re more than 10 games into conference play and haven’t faced each other yet, but we’ve both faced (and lost to) those darn Gaels. Can we compare notes? Where were the matchup problems (or were there any) with them for you?
Peter: The matchup problems are going to be the same for everyone: Jock Landale is a beast of a human being that few teams can manage. Gonzaga plays pretty good defense overall, but Saint Mary’s is such a smart shooting team. They shot 55 percent from two and 61 percent from three against us. Granted, both of those were pretty high numbers, but in the same game when the Zags shoot 27 percent from three, that makes it hard.
I still think that Saint Mary’s has issues with athletic players when the tempo speeds up, and their defense still isn’t actually that great by any metric. Against Gonzaga, they played their best game, and they won. But I also think that game is their ceiling.
VTF: Gonzaga and BYU actually match up pretty well on paper. Is there an area where you think BYU might present problems?
Peter: If we didn’t have Johnathan Williams, I’d say Yoeli Childs would be the big one, or Zac Seljaas. Our bigs are athletic enough to keep up with them, but what will be really interesting to watch is how well BYU is at defensive rebounding. This is a BYU squad that doesn’t push the pace as much as they used to and plays much more deliberately. The Zags are going to need to get a few second-chance points. It is hard to do with those two patrolling around in the paint, denying offensive rebounds.
VTF: We are pretty familiar with the staples on your team. Who are the newcomers to your squad that we should be most worried about and why?
Peter: The two biggest newcomers (not by height) are Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert, our new rotating wingers. Norvell is a high-volume scorer out of Chicago who is great at drawing contact and is always a threat from long range as long as it is in the second half. Corey Kispert is built like a linebacker and is another freshman having a year much better than many of us expected. Kispert provides more of that glue guy material, seemingly always getting the offensive rebound or loose ball to keep a broken play running. He is also a threat from long range and has a great stroke.
On the big end, it wouldn’t be a Gonzaga team without a large European player at center. Jacob Larsen (pronounced more like ya-kob) hails from Denmark, and he sat out last year with a knee injury. He has been ruthlessly efficient in his limited minutes this year, and although no player can take the sting out of losing Przemek Karnowski, Larsen is doing his best. As the year has progressed, the rotation has tightened a bit so he doesn’t see too many minutes (only averaging 10 per game). But in the case of foul trouble, he is another seven footer to throw in off the bench.
Perhaps the biggest “newcomer” BYU should be worried about is Rui Hachimura. Hachimura played sparingly last year because of language limitations (coming from Japan). He has been a force in WCC play, and is probably one of the most, if not the most, athletic player to roll through Gonzaga. He is still getting a feel for the game, so he might look a bit lost off the ball and make some defensive miscues, but if a SC Top 10 highlight is coming from the game it is coming from him.
VTF: I have to ask for your take on the whole missionary costume thing. What do you make of the Gonzaga Bulletin mandate?
Peter: Something that should be a long time coming. Personally, I feel that mocking anyone based on their religion, sexuality, race, anything that intrinsically makes someone who they are, is lazy, childish, and just flat out wrong. I’m glad the students are getting called out for it, and I’m glad it is gaining a bit of national traction. It is stupid to see some of our students do it and our fan base should be above it. You can still be rowdy, devastating, and in your face without having to debase yourself to those levels of mockery.
I’m glad the administration is forcing that conversation with the students, especially because as a Jesuit institution, that mockery goes against the ideals of the university and the Jesuit principles of acceptance and respect for everyone. Even though it seems most Mormons aren’t necessarily offended by it, that doesn’t necessarily make it OK or right. Disrespect TJ Haws because he chucked up a bad shot. Don’t disrespect him because he is a Mormon.