PROVO — For the fifth time this season, BYU is poised to face an opponent ranked in the AP top 25 poll.
The Cougars host West Coast Conference-leading Gonzaga Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2). After a monthlong absence, the Bulldogs (23-4) returned to the AP poll Monday, landing at No. 25 in the rankings.
BYU is 0-4 against ranked teams this year, with losses to Iowa State, Wichita State, UMass and Oregon.
Is the fifth time the charm?
Of the ranked teams the Cougars have played, only two are still ranked — No. 3 Wichita State (27-0) and No. 17 Iowa State (19-5). However, Texas, which was not ranked when BYU beat the Longhorns in November, is now No. 19 in the AP poll with a 20-5 record.
No doubt, a win over the ‘Zags Thursday would be huge for the Cougars (18-10) and their NCAA tournament at-large hopes.
"If BYU can beat Gonzaga this week, they're going to stay on the cut line all the way until Selection Sunday," ESPN bracketology expert Joe Lunardi said over the weekend.
LATE TIPOFF: This week’s BYU-Gonzaga game was originally scheduled for 7 p.m. on ESPN.
But Mother Nature had other plans.
Last Thursday, ESPN announced that the game had been moved to 9 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN2. The change was made to accommodate the Duke-North Carolina game, which was scheduled for Feb. 12, but was postponed due to inclement weather. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels will play Thursday night on ESPN.
‘CRAZY’ ATMOSPHERE: Saint Mary’s McKeon Pavilion is small (capacity: 3,500), but it got loud last Saturday night during the Cougars’ 60-57 win over the Gaels. A couple of times, BYU fans in attendance started a “BYU” chant, followed by Saint Mary's fans drowning those chants out with their own cheer.
"It was crazy," BYU guard Tyler Haws said of the atmosphere at McKeon Pavilion on a night that saw Saint Mary's retire the number of former star Matthew Dellavedova. "Every game we play against these guys, whether it’s here or at the Marriott Center, it’s always a crazy environment. College basketball doesn’t get much better than what we just played in.”
HAWS MOVING UP CHARTS: Late in Saturday’s game, Haws hit the 1,800-point plateau for his career. He is the second-fastest Cougar to reach 1,800 points — accomplished in 97 games. That is two games faster than Devin Durrant and six games behind Danny Ainge.
Saturday also marked Haws’ 41st straight double-digit scoring game. He scored 18 points in 40 minutes against Saint Mary's.
CARLINO’S WEEK: Guard Matt Carlino scored 28 points — two shy of his career high — in last Thursday’s loss at Pacific, then he had just four points, on 1-of-6 shooting from the field, in BYU’s win over Saint Mary’s.
However, Carlino knocked down two huge free throws with 5.1 seconds remaining to put the Cougars up, 58-55.