BYU basketball: Gonzaga will be highest-ranked team to play in Marriott Center
Provo • Barring an appearance in the National Invitational Tournament, which is actually quite likely, Brandon Davies, Brock Zylstra and Craig Cusick will play their final home basketball games on Thursday for BYU.
But those three seniors won't be the top draw for the 9 p.m. game at the Marriott Center, which will be televised nationally by ESPN2.
The team likely to be ranked No. 2 in the nation, 27-2 Gonzaga, will be in town. The Zags were No. 3 last week, but should move up a spot when The Associated Press Top 25 is released Monday because No. 2 Miami was upset by Wake Forest on Saturday.
Gonzaga, which pummeled Santa Clara and San Diego last week by a combined 74 points, will be the highest-ranked team to ever play in the Marriott Center, which opened in 1971.
Star center Kelly Olynyk said the Zags are peaking after they drilled San Diego 81-50 on Saturday, a win that clinched at least a share of the West Coast Conference title.
"A lot of pieces are coming together right now," Olynyk told the Spokesman-Review. "The defense is really starting to hit its stride and our offense has always been there, but we're staying efficient and playing through some stuff, and the bench is really contributing. The whole system is molding into a perfect picture."
Do the Cougars (20-9) have a chance?
College basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy of Salt Lake City gives BYU a 22 percent win probability.
Utah's 1997-98 team that played in the national championship game is the highest-ranked team to have played in the Marriott Center so far. The Utes were No. 3 when they defeated the Cougars 71-61 on Jan. 10, 1998.
In 2011, San Diego State was No. 4 and BYU was No. 9 in the AP poll when the Cougars and Jimmer Fredette crushed the Aztecs 71-58 on Jan. 26.
But there's no Fredette on the Cougars' roster this year, while Gonzaga's Olynyk is a national player of the year candidate. He played a perfect game in GU's 83-63 win over BYU last month, going 9 for 9 from the field and 8 for 8 from the free-throw line and grabbing nine rebounds in 31 minutes without being called for a single foul.
BYU has actually hosted a couple of No. 2 teams in Provo, but that was a long time ago, and at the Smith Fieldhouse.
On March 13, 1965, No. 2 UCLA downed BYU 100-76 in an NCAA Tournament game. On Dec. 21, 1965, the BYU team that would go on to win the NIT downed No. 2 St. Joseph's 103-83.
After BYU's 64-57 loss at Saint Mary's last Thursday, Davies said the key for the Cougars will be to eliminate mistakes defensively against the Zags and make big plays in the final minutes.
"That's what good teams do they take advantage of you making mistakes defensively," Davies said.
Gonzaga at BYU
P Tipoff • Thursday, 9 p.m. TV • ESPN2
BYU vs. Top 10 teams in Marriott Center in past 20 years
Jan. 11, 1997 No. 9 Utah 61, BYU 51
Jan. 10, 1998 No. 3 Utah 71, BYU 61
March 4, 1999 No. 8 Utah 81, BYU 62
Jan. 3, 2009 No. 6 Wake Forest 94, BYU 87
Jan. 26, 2011 No. 9 BYU 71, No. 4 San Diego State 58
Dec. 17, 2011 No. 6 Baylor 86, BYU 83
* AP Rankings