Dick Harmon: Gonzaga's loss sets up Cougar-Bulldog matchup; adds intrigue to WCC race
Gonzaga's loss sets up even more intrigue in WCC
Tony Avelar, Associated Press
It's Gonzaga Week for BYU now.
A very big roadie for a squad that just equaled its longest win streak of the season Saturday at Santa Clara and San Francisco beat the Zags shortly thereafter.
Who knows how BYU's basketball season will finish the next three weeks or so. But today, the Zags and Cougs are tied for second in the WCC at 11-3 and a limping top dog St. Mary's holds a one-game lead at 12-2 and now face the Dons.
Anything can happen.
BYU avoided a disaster at San Francisco Thursday after blowing a late lead and fiddled with lowly Santa Clara Saturday where folks witnessed Noah Hartsock turn into a Transformer.
Quite a season with eight freshmen; the Jimmer afterlife.
Things that stand out? Engagement and appetite by fans; enthusiasm for what's on the WCC table, emotional BYU fan hunger in general, and their Stephen Hawking-type interest in WCC officiating.
This isn't last year, that circus-laced atmosphere in February with Jimmermania; battles with San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV. Nobody expected a repeat of that. This is drama, however.
This WCC deal has provided an entertaining run for the newcomer to the league. What has been surprising is the passion BYU fans have shown this winter of change.
It helps to have a 23-6 team most experts say will be in the NCAA Tournament come March.
In WCC venues along the coast, league schools have hiked prices to take advantage of Cougar fans spiking attendance at their gyms. Indications are BYU fans opened up their wallets and did, indeed, oblige and respective athletic departments got a coin bump.
Both No. 16 St. Mary's and No. 24 Gonzaga are formidable. Both have joined San Francisco and Loyola Marymount as big challenges in the upper echelon of this league and BYU finds itself in a competitive crux as the final week of play approaches.
The WCC's pact with ESPN, plus BYUtv's ability to pick up a myriad of games, has kept interest alive with Cougar faithful. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say BYU exposure in the MWC pales to what TV execution is in the WCC with a better deal.
Fans in Provo have responded with surprising passion, filling seats in the Marriott Center and making plans for the sold-out WCC tournament in Las Vegas later this month.
Even in an embarrassing technical-foul earning, trash-throwing exhibition at the end of a loss to St. Mary's in the Marriott Center Jan. 28, one could not deny the intensity of fan furor, albeit boorish that night.
The alternative? Apathy.
Dave Rose, who had a chance to take the North Carolina State job last year, is not seeing apathy for his program in the WCC.
On Thursday, a struggling Northern Utah Cougar Club Chapter that's never really got off the ground gained free use of the new Megaplex Larry H. Miller Legacy Crossing theater in Centerville for a live broadcast of BYU at Gonzaga. The event is free to the public complete with gratis popcorn and prizes. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for the 8:45 p.m. tip.
It took the Cougar Club three months to get permission from ESPN to put the game in the 571-seat theater with a giant 70-foot screen and organizers hope to have Cougar quarterback Riley Nelson as a speaker and autograph signer.
"Greg Miller was great," said Daniel Markham. "He said if the 571-seater got filled, he'd open up the 270-seat theater too and just cancel the movie. So far, we have 250 people committed to come."
From last season to this, the constant has been Dave Rose, mining this passion from fans.
Rose began last season, Fredette's senior year, with a .760 win percentage. When that season ended in New Orleans in an overtime loss to Florida, that win percentage climbed to .779.
When BYU defeated Santa Clara Saturday night, Rose's career winning percentage stood at .781, his all-time best and once again, he is position to do league damage at the end.
This is an interesting WCC gig, indeed.
Now, if Stephen Hawking can just file his report and send it in from Cambridge, the natives just might be even more content.
In theory, of course.
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