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What you need to know: BYU vs Gonzaga preview (Basketball Edition)

After losing two out of three games against the Bulldogs last year, the Cougars are looking to come out and making a statement against the 8th ranked team in the country.

Kevin Pangos leads the Bulldogs against the Cougars on Saturday
Kevin Pangos leads the Bulldogs against the Cougars on Saturday
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The History

Saturday night will mark the 11th meeting between the BYU Cougars and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga has the distinct advantage as they are ranked 8th in the country and already lead the series with seven 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.

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 up a 19-point lead before relinquishing a few points to go 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.

Provo, UT 2014 (73-65)

Facing a ranked (25/22) Gonzaga team at home gave the Cougars a boost in their RPI towards the Big Dance and coming out with a win may have been what solidified their at-large berth. The Cougars started strong and built a bit of a lead before the Bulldogs went on a run near the end of the half and the teams went to the locker room tied at 39. BYU once again started strong, but Gonzaga continued to hang around until late in the game when BYU built an eight point lead and hit their free-throws to seal the victory. Anson Winder led the scoring with a game high 17 points as he went 10 for 10 from the free throw line. Matt Carlino added 15 points, six assists, and four rebounds in the 73-65 win.

The Outlook

After beating UMass in overtime the Cougars have their eyes set on Gonzaga. The Cougars have struggled to maintain their points per game average over the last four games; in fact they have failed to break the 80 point mark after averaging more than 90. The good news is that they are on a three game win streak that includes wins over Stanford and UMass and are winning in a number of different ways.

The Positives

For the first time this year the Cougars have shown they can win without the help of Haws. Not only did Haws have an off game, scoring only four points, but he was substituted in and out numerous times at the end of the game as he is still recovering from his ankle injury against Weber State. Anson Winder led all scorers with 25 points and Collinsworth added 18 while pulling down 15 rebounds. The duo also helped lead the team to a free throw shooting percentage of over 81 percent as they combined to go 16 of 21 from the line.

The Negatives

The Cougars played a fairly balanced game, the shots just didn't fall. The Cougars shot just 39 percent from the field, and less than 24 percent from behind the three-point line. With those types of numbers, the Cougars aren't going to win many games. What might be just as concerning is the fact that a fast break team only scored six points off the fast break. In fact, UMass outscored them in that department. It could be that the shots just rimmed out, but it must be corrected as they jump into conference play.

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 11th ranked offense into the game. Not only do they score points, they also have the 2nd ranked shooting percentage in the country. Junior forward Kyle Wiltjer leads the team in scoring with almost 17 points per game, but the Bulldogs boast five players in double figure scoring. The Bulldogs are led by their senior point guard Kevin Pangos who is averaging almost five assists per game to go along with almost 11 points. 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 shots, trying to bring down the 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 88 points per game, but haven't reached the 80 point mark since they beat Hawaii on December 6th. Look for Haws to bounce back from a very lackluster game where he scored only four points and ended his streak of double digit games. Watch for Winder and Collinsworth to continue to play well as they supplement Haws and force teams to defend them.

Watch for the Bulldogs to keep the Cougars under the 80 point mark as Gonzaga has a top 50 scoring defense and make sure that Haws doesn't beat them. 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: 4 pm MST

Where: Marriott Center-Provo, UT

TV: ESPN2

Internet: WatchESPN

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

Listen Live via Internet (KSL): Click Here