BYU and Gonzaga meet for the third time this season tonight (7 p.m. on ESPN) to decide which team will get the automatic West Coast Conference bid to the NCAA tournament. The game will be a grudge match of sorts as the teams split their two earlier meetings. Gonzaga won the game in Spokane 84-69 while BYU won in Provo, 73-65.
Here is a look at how the teams measure up in the battle for the WCC tournament title.
The starting backcourt
This is the strength of the BYU team. Tyler Haws is the leading scorer in the conference and the Cougars' go-to guy. He is a tireless worker who is deadly from the free-throw line. Kyle Collinsworth has played well ever since he took over the starting point guard role. He isn't much of a threat from the outside, but can attack the rim effectively to create lay-ups for himself or easy chances for his teammates. Anson Winder was inserted into the starting lineup late in the season to help BYU defensively, but has also been very efficient on offense. He is averaging more than 15 points a contest while shooting nearly 72 percent from the floor in his last five games.
The Bulldogs are also loaded with talent in the backcourt. Like BYU, the 'Zags play a three-guard lineup featuring David Stockton, Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos. Stockton is a quick guard who does most of the ball handling duties. He is a pass first guard who doesn't look to score very often. Bell can score in a myriad of ways and has a solid outside touch. He can be very streaky, but has shot it well lately. After starting the season at an impressive scoring pace, Pangos has slowed lately. He has scored in single digits in four of the last five games for the Bulldogs.
The starting frontcourt
Chances are Eric Mika will come off the bench against Gonzaga to keep from getting into early foul trouble. That leaves Nate Austin and, most likely, Luke Worthington to start against the talented Gonzaga big men. Austin is a great rebounder and solid defender who doesn't look to score much, if at all. Worthington is a big body who is getting better as the season goes on, but still can't be counted on for big minutes.
Sam Dower is the Bulldogs leading scorer and an impressive rebounder. He has decent touch from the perimeter, but does plenty of damage with his back to the basket and from the free-throw line. Dower has been perfect in the tournament so far making all 23 of his free-throw attempts. Przemek Karnowski is a big man with a soft touch. He is shooting 59.3 percent from the floor. He is a presence on the defensive end of the floor as well where Karnowski is a good rebounder and shot blocker.
The Cougars have some nice scoring punch from the reserves in Matt Carlino and Mika. Carlino is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14 points a night. He is also a solid distributor and great at disrupting the passing lanes on defense. Like Carlino, Mika plays starter minutes coming off the bench. He has a nice touch around the rim and is an aggressive rebounder. Josh Sharp sees time to spell the BYU big men. Guard Skyler Halford hasn't played much since he was replaced in the starting lineup. He has a nice outside shot and can be an asset on offense when called on. No other BYU player has been getting significant minutes off the bench of late.
Like BYU, the Bulldogs only go about eight deep. Their three main contributors off the bench are Kyle Dranginis, Drew Barham and Gerard Coleman. Dranginis is a big guard who is a solid all-around player. He plays starter minutes most nights and is an impressive passer and a good defender. Dranginis is third on the team in assists and rebounds per game. Barham is a solid backup on the wing who can score and rebound. He is a spot up shooter who can present problems if left open. Barham shoots 48.2 percent from behind the arc. Coleman hasn't played much lately, but did score seven points on 50 percent shooting in the last meeting against BYU.
Dave Rose is in his ninth year as the head coach for BYU. He has led the Cougars to the NCAA tournament six times and won four games. Rose is a great coach and his midseason adjustments are a major reason the Cougars are still playing. He isn't afraid to make drastic changes for the good of the team. The Cougars have won plenty of big games with Rose at the helm thanks to his decision-making and savvy.
Mark Few is in his 15th year as the head man at Gonzaga and is one of the premier college basketball coaches in the game today. The Bulldogs have made the NCAA tournament every year Few has been in charge and this season will be no different. After losing consensus All-American Kelly Olynyk to the NBA, Few has led Gonzaga to another great year and a West Coast Conference regular season championship.
How well each team's fan base traveled to Las Vegas might be the difference in this game. Both have outstanding fans at home games, but the Bulldog fans seem to travel better. The BYU crowd is always bolstered by local Cougar fans where ever they play.
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