Gonzaga (26-2, 13-0) at BYU (18-11, 10-4)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MST
McCarthey Athletic Center
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
SPOKANE, Wash. — Going into its rematch with No. 2 Gonzaga and its final road game of the regular season, BYU was hoping to be riding all of the momentum it could muster.
Then came the Cougars’ gut-wrenching loss to San Francisco Thursday night, when BYU squandered a 14-point lead and fell, 77-71, at the Marriott Center to snap the Cougars’ five-game winning streak.
BYU hadn’t lost since a 93-63 walloping at the hands of the Zags in Provo on Jan. 31.
USF outscored the Cougars 28-8 over the final eight minutes of the second half. BYU missed a bunch of shots and turned the ball over repeatedly during that stretch.
“I’m disappointed with the loss. But one thing these guys have done is they’ve been resilient all year,” said coach Dave Rose. “We’ll get back in the gym (Friday), head up to Spokane and swing away up there against the No. 2 team in the country and see how we do.”
With top-ranked Duke having lost at home to arch-rival North Carolina last Wednesday, Gonzaga (26-2, 13-0) could become the nation’s No. 1 team next week if it takes care of business against BYU.
Meanwhile, the Cougars, who were on a roll before the USF game, are trying to put that painful setback behind them.
“We’ve had this stuff happen all year. You have a hard loss and the beauty of basketball is you get to go play another game,” said guard TJ Haws, who scored 25 points against the Dons. “We’re going to be tested. (Gonzaga) is as good as they come. You can’t let this seep into the next game. This one will sting for a little bit but we have to move on and we have to have a good practice (Friday) and get prepared for Gonzaga.”
No doubt, BYU is a huge underdog Saturday. But the Cougars had won three straight games at The Kennel before dropping a 68-60 decision to the Zags last year. Gonzaga has won four consecutive games against BYU.
In that 30-point victory over the Cougars at the Marriott Center last month, the Zags shot 59 percent from the field. Forward Brandon Clarke scored a game-high 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting from the floor and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
Before the loss to USF, BYU was in control of its own destiny in terms of securing the all-important No. 2 seed in the upcoming West Coast Conference Tournament. Now? The Cougars could end up as the No. 4 seed and play in the quarterfinals Saturday, setting up a potential semifinal contest with Gonzaga the following Monday.
This year, the top two seeds in the conference tournament receive byes all the way until the semifinals.
For now, BYU (18-11, 10-4) is in second place in the WCC standings with Saturday’s game at Gonzaga and the regular-season finale at home next Saturday against San Diego remaining.
San Francisco (21-6, 9-4) and Saint Mary’s (18-10, 9-4) are tied for third place, just a half-game behind the Cougars.
The Dons visit Santa Clara Saturday and close out the regular season by hosting San Diego and Loyola Marymount.
The Gaels travel to San Diego Saturday and finish the regular season by hosting last-place Portland and Gonzaga.
The Zags are coming off a 92-64 home win against Pepperdine Thursday night. With the win, the Bulldogs clinched a seventh consecutive WCC regular-season title.
"A conference title is one of the goals on our board at the start of the year. It's a heck of an accomplishment,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
"Everybody has their eyes on bigger prizes," the coach added. That would include a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Against the Waves, Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins became the career assist leader at the school and forward Rui Hachimura scored 23 points.28 comments on this story
As for BYU, it has a huge challenge facing one of the best teams in the country on the road. On top of that, the Cougars are trying to forget their epic collapse in the second half against San Francisco.
“This will sting and we have a game on Saturday. So we get a chance to go out and play again,” Rose said. “Hopefully, (his players) appreciate that. But you’ve got to respect the process here. You know these guys will come in with their heads hanging a little bit. Hopefully the captains will get their minds right and we’ll be ready to go when the ball tips on Saturday.”