BYU basketball: Cougars setting sights on No. 2-ranked Gonzaga
Ben Margot, Associated Press
PROVO ?— Officially, BYU is welcoming the No. 2 team in the country to the Marriott Center this week.
But Gonzaga is the No. 1 team-in-waiting.
That's because top-ranked Indiana fell, 77-73, at Minnesota Tuesday night, which means the Zags could climb to No. 1 in the nation next week — if they can defeat the Cougars Thursday (9 p.m., MT, ESPN2), and Portland on Saturday.
"I think it's the best team we've ever had in here. It means a lot," said senior forward Brandon Davies. "There's a lot riding on it for them and for us. We're definitely not going to shy away. We're going to come out expecting to beat them and giving forth our best effort."
No. 2 Gonzaga is the highest ranked team ever to play BYU at the Marriott Center.
"We talked to our guys about what a great opportunity it is for us to play a really good team on a national stage in our building late in the year," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "Hopefully our guys will be ready. Hopefully we'll be able to have the right mindset in this game."
The Cougars say they're not shocked by the Bulldogs' lofty ranking.
"It doesn't surprise me. Their coach and their players, and they style that they play, they are very efficient," said BYU senior guard Craig Cusick. "They're a really good team. To be able to beat a team like that, you truly have to have a good game and your best night. So that's what we're looking for. We're planning on coming out and being ready. They deserve the No. 2 spot. They are that good."
Gonzaga (27-2, 14-0) is riding a 10-game winning streak, which started with an 83-63 victory over the Cougars in Spokane last month.
"We looked pretty bad up there," said senior guard Brock Zylstra. "We were never in the game. I think we're in a better spot now than we were back then."
In that game, Gonzaga shot 57 percent, compared to 36 percent for BYU. Bulldog forward Kelly Olynyk turned in a perfect shooting performance, going 9-for-9 from the field, and 8-for-8 from the free throw line for 26 points. He also added nine rebounds. Elias Harris scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
"They're the No. 2 ranked team for a reason," Zylstra said. "They give most people fits."
What needs to happen for the Cougars (20-9, 9-5) to pull off a huge upset?
"Homecourt can be a big advantage," said Cusick. "They're obviously a great team. They're really well-coached and they have great players. But we're confident. We're excited for them to come in. We need to focus, take care of the ball, and make sure we get our shots and bury them when we have them."
Zylstra said Gonzaga's performance this season has helped boost the national profile of the entire West Coast Conference.
"They're phenomenal. I think people are starting to realize how good the WCC is … It's not just Gonzaga, but the whole conference has some teams that can play."
And for BYU, Thursday is a chance to make a big statement on a big stage.
"It's a special time for us and our team," said Cusick. "Not often do you get a team even in the top 10 in your own place. So to have the No. 2 team in the country coming in, it's pretty special … We're excited, we're preparing hard, and trying to get focused for that big game."
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