This isn't the way the Cougars wanted to start their hoped-for rivalry with Gonzaga. They are coming off two-straight home losses, and they simply cannot make 3-pointers, having gone 11 of 73 from beyond the arc in the past four games.
What's more, Gonzaga figures to have the emotional edge tonight (9 p.m., ESPN2), seeing as how the Cougars kicked the Bulldogs around a year ago in the NCAA Tournament. That loss couldn't have sat well with Gonzaga coach Mark Few and his assistants, two of whom have ties to the state. Of course, Ray Giacoletti was Utah's head coach and Donny Daniels was a longtime assistant.
Both were with Few that night in Denver last March when BYU blitzed the Zags 89-67 in a second-rounder.
BYU's Charles Abouo said the Cougars believe Gonzaga will come into the game revenge-minded.
"Oh, definitely," Abouo said. "That was a big game last year and we were fortunate enough to win. But any time you can play an opponent that beat you, any competitor will love to get the chance to beat them.
They will come here with a lot of energy. It won't be anything different than what we have seen. Teams come in here and play with a chip on their shoulder and they will do the same thing, and they are a really good team.
So we will have to respond to that challenge. That's what we are practicing to do."
What can be done to improve the Cougars' 3-point shooting? Freshman point guard Matt Carlino said the Cougars will be a tad more selective before they pull the trigger against the Zags.
"I think all of us are really good shooters, so we just have to continue to shoot them, maybe not shoot as many and ease our way back into it.
They are putting a lot of pressure on the 3-point line, too, the defenses are, closing out hard. We will just have to take it inside, shoot more twos."
Carlino said the coaches have stressed playing hard, competing hard, since the St. Mary's loss.
"We haven't just abandoned ship. So we are just going to keep on improving," he said. "I have watched Gonzaga every time they have been on ESPN or whatnot. [Kevin Pangos] is a really good player. He can shoot it really well, quick release. He can distribute the ball. He's a freshman, just like me, so he is still learning stuff. But he's solid."
Another player who could only watch last year's BYU-Gonzaga game was Brandon Davies. He got a firsthand look, though, sitting on the Cougars' bench in Denver after having been suspended.
The game tonight "is a big deal, not only because they are a big-name team, but because we are coming off a loss," Davies said. "We don't lose two in a row very often. It is up to us to make sure that doesn't happen."
Davies took an official campus visit to Gonzaga when he was a senior at Provo High before choosing BYU.
"Yeah, I took a visit up there. They have a great program and everything. It just came down to wanting to stay home," he said.
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