Gonzaga coach Mark Few has one prediction for Thursday night’s West Coast Conference home game against BYU in Spokane, Wash.
“We’ll be tested on Thursday,” he said. “BYU always plays crazy, crazy hard.”
Based on how the second-ranked Bulldogs responded from a long layoff in their first game back, it will take something crazy, even from a solid team like the Cougars, to end Gonzaga’s 60-game winning streak at McCarthey Athletic Center.
After not playing their first three WCC games due to COVID-19 issues, the Zags (12-2, 1-0) destroyed Pepperdine 117-83 at home Saturday night. They put six players in double figures, led by Anton Watson’s 19 points, and canned 54.2 percent of their field-goal attempts.
Few was also impressed by Gonzaga’s defense. It held the Waves to 42.7 percent shooting from the field, forced 18 turnovers and earned a 51-36 rebounding advantage. The Zags grabbed 35 defensive rebounds.
“I think we were crisp,” Few said. “You worry about that. We were terrific on defense and played with great purpose on offense. We have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the hole and we like to share.”
Four guys score in double figures for Gonzaga, led by Drew Timme at 16.8 ppg. Chet Holmgren scores 13.4 ppg and grabs a team-high 8.4 rebounds, while Julian Strawther (13.1 ppg) and Rasir Bolton (11.0) provide perimeter punch.
The Zags lead Division I in field goal percentage at 52.3 and rank second in points per game with 87.9. Their only potential weakness is free throw shooting, where their 69.6 percent conversion rate is mediocre.
Meanwhile, BYU (14-3, 2-0) is coming off a 52-43 home win Saturday night over St. Mary’s in a battle of two other WCC teams expected to earn NCAA Tournament berths. The Cougars limited the Gaels to 16 first-half points and forced 19 turnovers, which was more than enough to overcome 39.3 percent shooting.
“I am really proud of our guys tonight,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “I thought we were near-flawless defensively. I thought Te’Jon Lucas did great because he is such a high-IQ defensive player, and I thought he was fantastic.”
Lucas was also the Cougars’ only double-figure scorer with 10 points, although all nine guys who played chipped in at least two points. BYU won without much of a contribution from leading scorer Alex Barcello (16.6 ppg), who made just 4 of 12 shots and scored only eight points.
Balance has been a staple for the Cougars this season. Lucas is their second-leading scorer at 10.1 ppg, but they have seven other players who chip in between 6.4 and 8.1 ppg. That kind of team effort came in very handy on a night where they fell behind 7-0.
“Where frustration turns most teams and most people sideways, my team absorbs it,” Pope said. “They understand that this is not a game of perfection, but a game of perfect effort.”
Gonzaga owns a 21-7 lead in the all-time series, although BYU was the last WCC team to beat it in February 2020 in Provo.
–Field Level Media