We’re excited to have them in our gym. It’s a top-10 team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. —BYU forward Dalton Nixon
PROVO — As far as BYU is concerned, facing No. 6 Gonzaga in the home finale is a fitting way to end the regular season.
“It’s a marquee matchup in this conference. Everybody likes to watch it,” said Cougar forward Luke Worthington. “I love to play in it and so do the rest of the guys. We’re excited to end this conference season on a positive note as we head into the (West Coast Conference) tournament.”
“I’m excited. We had a close game with them up there,” said forward Dalton Nixon. “We’re excited to have them in our gym. It’s a top-10 team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us.”
The Cougars host the Zags Saturday (6 p.m., MST, ESPN2) at the Marriott Center.
However, the status of BYU guard TJ Haws is uncertain after he suffered an ankle injury late in the Portland game. He returned and knocked down a big 3-pointer with 2:23 remaining but he may not be able to play, or be at full strength, Saturday.
BYU coach Dave Rose said Thursday that Haws’ ankle would be re-evaluated Friday.
"We’ll see how it feels (Friday)," Rose said. "With an ankle, you never know, especially when you get right on a plane and fly home."
Haws has enjoyed some of the best games of his career against Gonzaga. In the Cougars’ 68-60 loss at Gonzaga last month, he poured in 26 points while a year ago had a career-high 29 at home against the Bulldogs.
BYU (22-8, 11-6), which won 72-60 at Portland on Thursday, has locked up the No. 3 seed in next week’s WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.
Gonzaga (22-8, 11-6) can clinch the No. 1 seed with a victory. The Zags rallied Thursday to defeat San Diego at Jenny Craig Pavilion, 77-72.
To pull off a big upset, the Cougars will need balanced scoring like they got at Portland, where Elijah Bryant and Yoeli Childs each scored 15 points, Nixon finished with 14 and Haws had 10.
BYU’s bench scored 22 points against the Pilots and the Cougars will need a similar effort from their reserves Saturday.
“We’re going to need a lot of guys to play well,” Rose said. “I’m looking forward to it and I know the guys are too.”
While it’s the regular-season home finale, it’s not Senior Night because the Cougars don’t have any seniors on the roster.
“Sometimes that game, when you have a lot of seniors, there’s emotion and all those things,” Rose said. “But the way this sets up, it’s the last game but it’s not Senior Night so hopefully everybody will be ready to play. This is a really good Gonzaga team. It’s really deep.”
Nixon has seen his role increase in recent weeks, averaging 8.8 points over the past five games. He drilled a pair of 3-pointers at Portland.
“I feel confident in coming in and providing energy on the defensive end and being in a position to execute offensively,” Nixon said.
In the loss at Gonzaga, the Cougars kept the game close before falling short, 68-60.
After that contest, Worthington said the experience built some confidence for his team.
“I’m glad to know that we can compete at that level. That’s really the level we should be competing at every night,” he said. “You’ve got to make a couple of more plays and a few less turnovers. There were a couple of stretches there where we weren’t ourselves and turned the ball over. But if we clean that stuff up, I have no doubt that we’ll beat them at our place.”
The Bulldogs had three players in double figures in the first matchup against the Cougars — Rui Hachimura (15), Josh Perkins (14) and Johnathan Williams (13). Hachimura came off the bench and hit key shots.
Worthington said no matter where BYU and Gonzaga meet, it’s always an exciting environment.
“The students really love it. It’s always exciting playing (Gonzaga). They’re a great team. We honestly think like we should have gotten them at their place and now they’re coming to our place.
"I love this game. I love playing these guys. I love playing them on their floor and I love playing them on our floor. They’re both awesome atmospheres. It’s going to be pretty amped up in Provo this weekend.”
Cougars on the air
No. 6 Gonzaga (26-4, 16-1)
at BYU (22-8, 11-6)
Saturday, 6 p.m. MST Marriott Center
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM