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BYU readies for ranked showdown Saturday versus Gonzaga

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23) and Brigham Young Cougars guard TJ Haws (30) are celebrated following their 85-75 win over the Santa Clara Broncos at the Marriott Center in Provo, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.

Provo • The stage has been set, and BYU couldn't have asked for a bigger or better game for the home finale.

The game feels so huge that as soon as the Cougars got their seventh-straight win on Thursday night, BYU students walked out of the arena, only to get back in line for a chance to score tickets for Saturday’s sold-out showdown between 23rd-ranked BYU and No. 2 Gonzaga.

It will be the first time a ranked BYU squad takes on a ranked opponent at home since January 2011. Back then, No. 9 BYU upset then-undefeated No. 4 San Diego State 71-58, at the height of Jimmer-mania.

Even though the Zags got bumped down to a No. 2 ranking more than a month ago, BYU coach Mark Pope still considers Gonzaga the No. 1 team in the nation.

“I think they’re the best team in the country right now and we’ve got a shot of them here, and it’s on senior night,” Pope said. “It’s going to be sheer insanity. The joint is sold out. We’ve won seven in a row, they’ve won a lot in a row.”

It will also be the last game in the Marriott Center for BYU’s seven seniors: Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, Jake Toolson, Zac Seljaas, Dalton Nixon, Evan Troy and Taylor Maughan.

All but Toolson and Maughan have played their entire collegiate career at BYU. Toolson started at BYU, but then transferred to Utah Valley, where he played his sophomore and junior seasons, before coming back. Maughan started at BYU-Hawaii, but then went on his church mission (which turned into two missions) and eventually found his way to Provo.

The seniors have given their heart and soul to BYU, the fans and the program, Pope said, so he's expecting emotions to run high on Saturday.

He even joked that he told Trevin Knell to be ready because the freshman might be the only one of sound mind.

“We’ve talked a long time about seniors being magic and these guys, with everything they’ve gone through in their respective career, their last home game of their career as seniors is the first time that they’ve ever been ranked, two ranked teams going head to head at the Marriott Center, in a sold out arena winning seven in a row,” Pope said. “If you would have asked us if we would take that before the season started, every single one of us would have signed up a million times over. What these seniors have accomplished is breathtaking. It really is breathtaking.”

When the Cougars last played Gonzaga earlier this season, BYU played a competitive first half, going into halftime with a single-digit deficit. But then the Bulldogs shut the Cougars down in the second half and rolled on to a 92-69 win.

“I remember I was walking to the line or somebody said something to me and I was like ‘give us a month back at our place — circle that game, we’ll be ready,’” Toolson said of their trip to the Kennel.

While Nixon is still out with a severe ankle sprain and will be unavailable, the Cougars have two other players that didn't get a chance to play Gonzaga in the series' first game.

When BYU traveled to Spokane more than a month ago, Childs was sitting out his fourth and final game after suffering an open dislocation of his right index finger. Gavin Baxter was also unavailable as he continued to recover from shoulder surgery.

But both will be more than ready for their chance to go up against the Zags.

“I think it gives us a chance to trust a few different things on the defensive ends or maybe, in some ways, we have more manageable matchups, maybe,” Pope said. “… Certainly, Yoeli is a handful. You can’t approach our team and think about this Yoeli Childs and not think you have to have some kind of special game plan that’s focused on him in some way. So, that changes a lot. I mean, he’s one of the best players in the country. So, I think those things will be different.”

GONZAGA AT BYU

At the Marriott Center, Provo


Tipoff » Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV » ESPN2

Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius 143.

Records » BYU 22-7, 11-3; ORU 27-1, 13-0

Series » Gonzaga leads, 18-6

Last meeting » Gonzaga 92, BYU 69 (Jan. 18, 2020)

About BYU » The Cougars are on a seven-game win streak — the longest regular-season win streak in West Coast Conference play since BYU joined the WCC. … Three Cougars scored 20 points or more in Thursday’s 85-75 win over Santa Clara. TJ Haws led with 28 points, while Yoeli Childs scored 22 and Jake Toolson added 20 points. … No. 23 BYU is currently in second in WCC standings.

About Gonzaga » The Zags are the lone undefeated team in WCC play, and are currently on a 19-game win streak. … Killian Tillie scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds on Thursday to lead Gonzaga to a 71-54 win against San Francisco. … Gonzaga has won 40 straight regular-season conference games and 37 straight home games, both the longest streaks in the nation.

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