No. 1 Gonzaga can wrap up perfect season (Feb 25, 2017)
One more win against BYU on Saturday and top-ranked Gonzaga will go unbeaten in the regular season and head into the postseason bent on capturing the West Coast Conference tournament title next week.
First things first. The Bulldogs (29-0, 17-0 WCC) want to take care of the Cougars, who have upset Gonzaga the last two seasons at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. The game, which tips off at 10 p.m. ET, is Senior Night for the Bulldogs, who will honor center Przemek Karnowski and guard Jordan Mathews.
Plenty of emotions will be involved but coach Mark Few is confident his players can handle it given how they have executed to near precision this season despite the chance of losing focus against struggling teams in the WCC.
"It's been like this all year," Few said after the Bulldogs dismantled San Diego in a 96-38 win at San Diego on Thursday night. "We have just not shown up flat or not paid the proper attention to our opponent. It's the best we have ever been since I have been coaching here, as far as night in and night out doing what we have to do.''
No doubt Gonzaga has circled the date to play BYU (20-10, 11-6) to avenge the last two losses at home against the Cougars.
"We want to right that ship," Few said. "BYU is always a well-coached team. They will challenge us."
The Cougars are coming off a dominating win of their own, a 97-78 triumph over host Portland on Thursday. Elijah Bryant recorded a career-high 37 points and 11 rebounds in the victory.
Five BYU players scored in double figures, as was the case for Gonzaga at San Diego. The Cougars recorded a season-high 13 3-pointers, as did the Bulldogs against the Toreros. Bryant had seven of those 3-pointers against Portland.
Filling in for injured forward Yoeli Childs (ankle), sophomore Braiden Shaw made his first career start for BYU and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds. Eric Mika added 19 points and eight rebounds and Nick Emery had 16 points and made three 3-pointers.
"We needed some momentum for Saturday's game, and I think we got it," Bryant said.
Gonzaga defeated BYU 85-75 last month at Provo, Utah. The 10-point game is a nail-biter for the Bulldogs this season inasmuch as they have won 21 straight games, including all 17 conference games, by double digits with an average margin of 24.9 points.
The 58-point win over San Diego was the largest margin of the season for Gonzaga, which has won games by 47, 46 and 39 points. It is the largest winning margin ever by a No. 1-ranked team on the road. It was only two shy of the school record.
''Our coaches do such a great job preparing us and getting us ready for whatever the team can throw at us, and when we follow the scouting report that we did tonight (against San Diego), I think we're a really good defensive team,'' said Bulldogs guard Josh Perkins, who finished with 15 points with all five of his baskets 3-pointers.
The game against BYU could also be the last home game for junior point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, the potential WCC Player of the Year who could decide to go pro. Williams-Goss scored 33 points for Gonzaga in the first game against BYU.
"Williams-Goss just kind of controlled that game,'' BYU coach Dave Rose said. ''He had a pace to him and confidence to him where every time you make a run, he had an answer. He plays at a really comfortable pace for him.
"He's hard to get sped up. Some of the other guys we could speed them a little bit and maybe get a turnover or bad pass or quick shot. He's the one guy that held that thing together and controlled it and made big plays.''