BYU basketball: Plenty of respect for Gonzaga among Cougars
Provo • The last time the Cougars played against Gonzaga, an NCAA Tournament-bound BYU team suffered one of the most lopsided losses in the Dave Rose era, falling 77-58 to the Zags at Orleans Arena in March.
The Cougars fell behind early, watched point guard Kevin Pangos shred them for 30 points, and were eliminated in that West Coast Conference semifinal in Las Vegas.
To a man, the Cougars said after practice on Tuesday that the Gonzaga team they lost to twice last year is even better this year. The 15-5 Cougars will test the No. 10 Zags (17-2) at 9 p.m. MST on Thursday at McCarthey Athletic Center, which even the Cougars and their coaches refer to as "The Kennel."
"Year after year, they are so consistent," Rose said. "They are a great offensive team. They play on attack, and this year [their] depth is phenomenal."
Rose said the addition of 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, who redshirted last year, might make this Gonzaga team more difficult to defend, and to score against, than any the Cougars have faced.
It seems like a long time ago, but the Cougars actually had a two-game winning streak over Gonzaga heading into last year's game in Spokane, having knocked the Bulldogs off in an NCAA Tournament second-round game in Denver in 2011 and in the teams' first-ever WCC game at the Marriott Center last year.
The Cougars expect Gonzaga's best shot, and not just because they handed the proud program a couple of losses in the past three years.
"They are coming off a loss, and they are going to be fired up," said BYU senior Brandon Davies. "But they were going to be [fired up] regardless of whether they won or lost that game [at Butler]. That's what good teams do: They prepare themselves and get ready to bounce back."
The Cougars quickly learned in last year's 74-63 road loss that The Kennel is just as difficult of an arena to visit as anything they faced in the Mountain West Conference, including UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center or New Mexico's Pit.
"It is a great arena," Rose said. "The fans are close, and they are really involved. The student section is terrific. And the tradition that they have there, you can see it in all the fans. They expect to win ... it is a great college [atmosphere]."
RPI and bracket watch
The WCC has four teams in the top 100 in the latest NCAA RPI report, with Gonzaga at No. 9, BYU at No. 42, Saint Mary's at No. 62 and Santa Clara at No. 88. All four are among the 100 highest scoring teams in Division I, with Gonzaga ninth, BYU 18th, Santa Clara 19th and Saint Mary's 23rd. In the latest bracketology projections, ESPN's Joe Lunardi has BYU among his "First Four Out" and has Saint Mary's among his "Last Four In."
Andy Glockner of SI.com has BYU among his first four out.
BYU at No. 10 Gonzaga
O Thursday, 9 p.m.
TV • ESPN2