PROVO — It's an intimidating place to play, and BYU didn't fare well last year there.
But the Cougars are looking forward to traveling to Spokane, Wash., and facing No. 10 Gonzaga at "The Kennel," the Zags' 6,000-seat arena, Thursday night (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2).
"I'm excited to go up there," BYU guard Matt Carlino said after Tuesday's practice at the Marriott Center. "I want to leave already, just to get up there. We've been so anxious to get on the plane and go out there. They're a really good team. We've got to watch them a lot because they play a lot of national games. It's going to be an exciting game."
"The fans are close (to the court). They're really involved," said coach Dave Rose. "The student section is terrific. The tradition that they have there, you can see it in all the fans — they expect to win. It's similar to our arena as far as the excitement that teams get when they come in to play because it's a great college feeling."
Guard Brock Zylstra compares "The Kennel" to other hostile venues BYU has played in over the years.
"It's great. It rivals places in the Mountain West Conference like The Pit (at New Mexico)," Zylstra said. "It's a great place to play. You look forward to playing in places like that because the memories you have with the crowd and how loud it is in there."
Guard Tyler Haws will be playing his first game at "The Kennel," because he was serving an LDS mission last year. But he's heard plenty about the atmosphere.
"It's a crazy place to play, a fun environment," Haws said. "I'm excited to go up there and see what it's like."
The Cougars fell to the Bulldogs last season in Spokane, 74-63.
"I like playing up there. It's competitive," said forward Brandon Davies. "This time around, we're trying to end with a win."
THE SERIES: Gonzaga leads the all-time series with BYU, 3-2.
The first meeting came in 1949, with the Bulldogs winning. The two teams didn't play again until the 2011 NCAA tournament, as Jimmer Fredette led the Cougars to an 89-67 victory to earn a coveted spot in the Sweet 16.
BYU won in Provo last season, 83-73, before falling to the Zags in Spokane and again in the West Coast Conference semifinals in Las Vegas, 77-58.
"We won two games and they've won the last two," Carlino said. "We've just got to get back on the winning track against them."
PICKING UP THE PACE: Early in the season, Carlino struggled, particularly with his shooting and scoring.
But he enjoyed a breakout game against Utah in early December, scoring 19 against the Utes. In all six conference games, Carlino has scored double figures. He's also knocked down 13 3-pointers in WCC contests this season.
"His pace is so much better," Rose said of Carlino. "The Utah game was really big for him, to come in and finally make big shots. How he feels about his game depends on how he's shooting the ball. He wasn't shooting the ball very well before that game. Confidence is a big issue. … Everything's better. His assists are better. His rebounds are better. His shooting percentage is better."
WCC SCORING SURGE: The WCC is the only Division I conference that has four teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in scoring: Gonzaga (9), BYU (18), Santa Clara (19) and Saint Mary's (23).
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