What BYU men’s basketball said about preparing for a sellout crowd against Gonzaga

The Cougars are preparing to face the Bulldogs for the last time at the Marriott Center in the WCC era.

(BYU Athletics) Gideon George points during a game against the Portland Pilots on Dec. 31, 2022, at the Marriott Center.

Provo • The last time the BYU men’s basketball team beat Gonzaga, Gideon George was in the Marriott Center, but not in a Cougars uniform. That’s because he was sitting in the stands on his official visit, evaluating on that Feb. 22, 2020, night whether donning the blue and white would be the right decision.

BYU beat the Bulldogs, the sellout crowd stormed the court and George committed a few days later. Now he’s one of the team’s most trusted players and veteran leaders, but he hasn’t beaten Gonzaga as a member of the team. On Thursday night, he wants to change that.

“I’ve been looking forward to getting a win against the Zags before I’m gone,” said George, who is in his final season at BYU.

How to watch

BYU vs. No. 8 Gonzaga

Marriott Center

Tipoff: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.


Radio: BYU Sports Network on BYU Radio Sirius XM 143 and KSL 102.7/1160 AM.

The scene for Thursday’s game will be similar to that night back in 2020. The game is sold out. It’ll be broadcasted on ESPN. Gonzaga is ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25.

What’s different about Thursday’s matchup, though, is that it is the final game between the two teams at the Marriott Center as West Coast Conference opponents. Bulldogs center Drew Timme said recently that he hopes the series continues in the future somehow.

But for all the hype this game has gotten and will get, there’s still the practical reality of beating Gonzaga, which has not only dominated the all-time series with BYU with a 22-7 record, but also features one of the best and most seasoned players in the country in Timme.

“Friggin’ Drew Timme,” Mark Pope said in jest after Tuesday’s practice. “How many years does he have left? Just go be a pro already. He’s been the face of that program for decades, it seems like.”

Timme has one more year of college eligibility after this season due to the COVID-19 year. He’s averaging 21.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 33.2 minutes per game. Alongside him making big impacts are Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton and Anton Watson.

Watson in particular presents a different type of challenge for the Cougars.

“This Watson is a terrific talent,” Pope said. “He’s a big-time player, and he’s playing an elite level. He’s just a different challenge. He’s more physical. He’s an elite level rebounder with his size. He’s become way more aggressive in transition. He’s making plays off the bounce.”

Pope said what will be key for the Cougars against Gonzaga is transition defense and rebounding. In fact, His words emitted a playful exaggeration when talking about just how difficult it is to play well in those areas against the Bulldogs.

“These Zags, man, ugh, jeez,” Pope said. “It’s kind of like there’s a price of admission to even compete in the game. You don’t get a chance to compete in the game if you don’t guard in transition. You don’t even get a chance to compete. And if you can’t compete with them on the glass, you don’t even get a chance to compete.”

So for George to finally beat Gonzaga in a Cougars uniform, BYU will have to play a near-perfect game. But he seemed confident how his team has been playing lately.

“I think if we stay the course, we’re going to be good,” George said. “We don’t need to change anything. Just keep doing what we’re doing.”