BYU Looking to Keep Hope Alive vs. Gonzaga
BYU’s 60-57 win at Saint Mary’s late Saturday night put the Cougars in the driver’s seat for second place in the WCC and the all-important second seed in next month’s conference tournament.
The Cougars (10-5, 18-10) now own a half game lead, as well as the tie-breaker, against both Saint Mary’s (9-5, 19-8) and San Francisco (9-5, 16-10) with three games remaining.
If they can manage to hold off the Gaels or the Dons down the stretch, they will avoid seeing conference big dog Gonzaga in the WCC tournament until the championship game.
That’s important because BYU’s at-large hopes to make the NCAA tournament took another big hit with its loss last week at Pacific.
The Cougars are in the position of needing to run the table all the way to the championship game of the conference tourney to have a shot at an at-large invitation, and even that may not be enough.
In order to remain in second place behind Gonzaga in the WCC standings, BYU must defeat the No. 22/25 Zags in the Marriott Center on Thursday night. That’s because the Gaels travel to USF on Thursday, and the winner of that game would slip a half game ahead of the Cougars if they are unsuccessful at defending their home court.
A win on Thursday would go a long way to ensuring that BYU would end up on the opposite side of the bracket from the Zags when the WCC tournaments tips off in just over two weeks.
Gonzaga pounded BYU 84-69 in the McCarthey Center on back on Jan. 25th. The 15-point loss was the second-largest margin of defeat suffered by the Cougars this year. The Bulldogs put on a shooting clinic in the second half, outscoring BYU 49-36 to break open what was a two-point game at halftime.
The Zags hit 64 percent of their shots in the second half and made 67 percent (10-of-22) of their attempts from three. Kevin Pangos was 6-of-10 from the arc and led his team with 24 points. Meanwhile, BYU was a cold 2-of-11 from three-point range that night. Tyler Haws’ team-high 23 points was not enough as the Cougars were held to nearly 20 points below their scoring average.
Teams having one of their best shooting nights against BYU has become a recurring theme this season. Dave Rose’s squad has struggled to defend the perimeter and his key big men, Eric Mika and Nate Austin, have had a tendency to get into early foul trouble.
If Mika and Austin can stay on the floor and off the pine, and if the Cougars can defend the three-point line like it did Saturday at Saint Mary’s when they held the Gaels to just 4-of-19 from three, they’ll have a real chance to pull off the upset in the friendly confines of the MC.
Rose would be well-served to handle freshman big man Eric Mika much the way he did his starting point guard Matt Carlino earlier this season. When Carlino was struggling with his confidence and shooting, the coach moved him to the bench. Matt has responded well to sitting out the first several minutes of games, and his performance and decision making has improved.
It would be wise to let Mika also sit the first few minutes of games in order to keep him from picking up early fouls and give him a chance to get a better feel for the flow of the game and how officials are calling things. Let Luke Worthington, who has picked up his game the past couple of weeks, draw the early fouls and be a physical presence in the middle in the early going.
If the Cougars are going to have a chance to defeat Gonzaga, run the table the rest of the way in the regular season, and have a chance to win the conference tournament, then they must find a way to keep their talented freshman on the floor.