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Cougars still in West Coast Conference title chase

Published: Monday, Feb. 20 2012 12:23 a.m. MST

Brigham Young coach Dave Rose congratulates his players late in an 82-67 victory against Santa Clara in an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012.

Associated Press

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PROVO — It's the final week of the regular season, and it's another big week for BYU.

The Cougars visit Spokane, Wash., for a huge showdown with Gonzaga on Thursday night, then they host Portland in the regular-season finale on Saturday.

After sweeping its trip to the Bay Area last weekend with victories over San Francisco and Santa Clara, BYU is still in contention for the West Coast Conference championship.

"The best part about it is, we're right in the (WCC) race," said coach Dave Rose. "That's what you want going into the last week of the regular season. You want to be in the conference chase and in the chase for an NCAA Tournament bid. This team's right there. We're excited."

BYU — which is riding a five-game winning streak — and Gonzaga are tied for second place in the WCC, with identical records of 11-3. The Cougars and Bulldogs are only one game behind league-leader Saint Mary's (12-2).

The Gaels swept the season series from BYU, but have lost three of their last four games and finish the regular season with road games against Portland and San Francisco. Star guard Matthew Dellavedova has been playing with an ankle injury, and Stephen Holt injured his knee in a loss to Loyola Marymount last Wednesday. But Holt is expected to be back in the lineup this week.

The Zags, meanwhile, fell at San Francisco, 66-65, in the final seconds last Saturday. Dons fans stormed the court at War Memorial Gym, where BYU escaped with an 85-84 win last Thursday.

"You need to understand what Gonzaga is," USF coach Rex Walters said. "They are a machine. They are a basketball machine and they are not a mid-major. They are a high-major program. For us to get that win is big."

The Bulldogs, who have won 11 straight WCC regular-season titles, will be looking to avenge an 83-73 setback to BYU in Provo on Feb. 2.

In the moments after the Cougars' 82-67 win over Santa Clara, forward Noah Hartsock said he and his teammates weren't thinking about Gonzaga, but rather savoring the pair of hard-fought road victories at San Francisco and Santa Clara.

"We're kind of enjoying it," he said. "It's the first time I've ever been on the road in conference for two straight games. It was a good experience for us. We're excited to get home, then we'll prepare (for Gonzaga)."

Forward Brandon Davies, who was recruited by Gonzaga in high school and made a recruiting trip to the campus, is looking forward to going to "The Kennel," otherwise known as the McCarthey Center.

"It's a great facility, it's a great environment," Davies said. "It's going to be fun."

BYU closes out the regular season at home against Portland on Saturday, a contest that will mark the final regular-season game at the Marriott Center for the Cougars' two seniors, Hartsock and Charles Abouo.

The WCC Tournament tips off on Feb. 29 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The top two seeds in the WCC Tournament earn a bye until the semifinals on March 3, while the championship game is set for March 5.

BYU is a bit bruised and battered heading into the week, as both Hartsock and guard Matt Carlino suffered MCL sprains. Carlino sustained his injury against USF, while Hartsock hurt his knee midway through the second half at Santa Clara, as he went down hard to the floor while battling for a rebound.

Rose said Hartsock's knee would be evaluated by doctors this weekend.

Cougars on the air

BYU (23-6, 11-3) at

Gonzaga (21-5, 11-3)

Thursday, 9 p.m., MST

McCarthey Center

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

email: jeffc@desnews.com

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