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BYU now No. 17 in the AP Poll after beating Gonzaga

BYU forward Yoeli Childs (23) reacts after dunking against Gonzaga during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Provo • The regular season may be one week away from wrapping up, but BYU is still just getting started. The Cougars are not just NCAA Tournament bound for the first time since 2015, but the team is a dark horse to be a Sweet 16 or Final Four contender, some bracketologists are arguing.

After upsetting Gonzaga 91-78 at the Marriott Center on Saturday, BYU found itself bumped up from last week’s No. 23 ranking to No. 17. In turn, the Zags got knocked down from their previous No. 2 ranking to No. 3 in the latest AP Top 25 poll.

In fact, the top of the pack was all shaken up after a weekend of upsets.

Previously top-ranked Baylor was taken down by Kansas, who in turn was awarded the No. 1 spot this week, and San Diego State saw their perfect season taken away by UNLV. But after their first loss of the season, the Aztecs were only moved down one spot to No. 5.

The latest BracketologyMatrix has BYU as a No. 7 seed, with an average seed of 6.29.

BYU (23-7, 12-3 WCC) led Gonzaga by as many as 15 points on Saturday, but saw that lead cut down to two with less than eight minutes left. While the Cougars have struggled defensively earlier this season, this time around they were able to get the necessary defensive stops to prevent Gonzaga from regaining the lead.

The Cougars outscored the Zags 21-10, while holding Gonzaga to 17% shooting, in the final seven minutes.

“We were playing together on both ends of the floor,” senior Yoeli Childs said. “We kind of have this mindset that it’s never 1-on-1. We’ve been talking about that a lot lately — it’s 1-on-5. It’s a lot easier to go help and make plays when you trust that your teammate has your back and they’re not going to leave you hanging out to dry. So, I think we were just all locked in tonight on helping each other.”

BYU is on an eight-game winning streak, not having lost since the Cougars' 1-point heartbreaker at San Francisco.

The Cougars have dominated the second half of league play and have not lost in February — a month coach Mark Pope had said was crucial for his team.

Luckily for Pope, BYU is stacked with veterans and a solid group of seniors that are familiar with the pressure rising as the year goes on.

“Our guys have been emotionally fatigued and physically fatigued and banged up and changing lineups and guys getting hurt and they still dial in enough to get the job done, so far,” Pope said. “We had a really, really sobering setback at San Francisco, which is a really good team and a hard gym to play at, and the guys have responded really well since then.”

The Cougars have a bye Thursday night before they finish the regular season at Pepperdine this Saturday.

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