BYU basketball: Second-place Cougars brace for Gonzaga
By Jay Drew
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Feb 16 2014 04:25PM
Provo • A good illustration of how wacky BYU’s third basketball season in the West Coast Conference has been is reflected in the league standings heading into the final two weeks of regular-season play.
The second-place Cougars (18-10, 10-5 WCC) swept the teams just below them in the standings, Saint Mary’s and San Francisco, but lost at last-place Loyola Marymount, fifth-place Portland, sixth-place Pepperdine and seventh-place Pacific.
Of course, they were blown out by league-leading Gonzaga, a loss they hope to avenge on Thursday when the Zags (23-4, 13-1) visit the Marriott Center for a 9 p.m. MST showdown on ESPN2. Thanks to its 60-57 win over SMC at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga on Saturday night, BYU has some swagger going into Round 2 with the WCC’s most dominant program.
"We are confident," guard Tyler Haws said after scoring 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting against the Gaels. "Anytime we can get back to the Marriott Center, we love it. Obviously, it is going to be a challenge, but we are excited for it."
By virtue of the sweeps, BYU now owns the tiebreaker over SMC and USF if it finishes with the same record as the Gaels or Dons. That could be huge in avoiding Gonzaga until the conference tournament championship game.
"I think [beating Saint Mary’s] just gives us a boost of confidence. It is a place where we have never won, and it is a tough place to play," said BYU forward Nate Austin, who grabbed 11 rebounds. "Lots of teams come in here and get losses. So it gives us confidence going forward that any game in the conference, if we play well, we can win."
With BYU, Saint Mary’s and San Francisco all having five losses, the Zags (13-1) have clinched at least a piece of the conference title. Technically, BYU can get a piece of the league crown if it wins out and the Zags lose out.
That’s obviously unlikely, although Gonzaga’s final four league games are on the road and two of the Cougars’ final three are at the Marriott Center, where they are undefeated in conference games.
The Cougars may or may not be dealing with more injuries. Point guard Kyle Collinsworth returned to the game after a hard fall in the first half, but coach Dave Rose said after the game that "you never know" if Collinsworth will be OK in the long run.
Backup forward Luke Worthington played a career-high 19 minutes against the Gaels as Austin and freshman Eric Mika spent big chunks of time on the bench in foul trouble. However, Worthington suffered a shoulder injury in the second half and didn’t return to the game.
Both Collinsworth and Worthington will be evaluated Monday, Rose said.