BYU Basketball: Underdog Cougs to ‘Gain Huge Momentum’ at Top-Ranked Zags



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What a high profile and unexpected way for BYU to rock the game of the West Coast Conference.

After pushing back their first three WCC games, the Cougars visit No.1 Gonzaga on Thursday (6:30 p.m., MST, ESPN) in a game held earlier this week.

Of course, BYU will be a big underdog against the top ranked Bulldogs.

“We’re so excited to gain a huge momentum and see where we’re at,” BYU coach Mark Pope said on his coach’s show on BYUtv Tuesday night.

Thursday’s game is a postponement of the February 6 meeting between BYU and Gonzaga at the Kennel and is not an additional game. What will happen with this February 6 game remains to be determined.

The COE, BYU, Gonzaga and ESPN worked together to change the schedule. BYU was originally scheduled to host Pacific on Thursday when the Zags were scheduled to play in Santa Clara.

Gonzaga (10-0, 1-0) is leading a 14-game winning streak, 44-game winning streak at home and a 22-game winning streak at the WCC. This season, the Zags have won victories over No.3 in Iowa, No.5 in Kansas, No.11 in West Virginia and No.15 in Virginia.

Gonzaga became the third team to beat three of the top 15 opponents in their first four games. He beat San Francisco 85-62 at home in their WCC opener last Saturday.

“They are remarkable,” Pope said. “It could’ve been back… UNLV with Larry Johnson and (Coach Jerry) Tarkanian that there was a team that was so completely, 100% dominant over everyone in college basketball. What they’re doing right now is amazing.

When did Gonzaga last lose?

Well, that happened almost a year ago, on February 22 at a sold-out Marriott Center, where the No.23 Cougars defeated No.2 Zags 91-78.

That night, BYU snapped Gonzaga’s 19-game winning streak as well as his 39-game WCC winning streak on the road.

Meanwhile, no other team over the past few years has been as successful at the kennel as BYU.

The Cougars won three straight years from 2015-17. In 2015, BYU ended the Zags’ 22-game winning streak and 41-game winning streak at home. In 2017, the Cougars shocked Gonzaga when he was ranked No.1 in the country and had a perfect 29-0 record. BYU fell 18-2 in the early stages of the game and rallied to win 79-71.

As for this year’s Gonzaga squad, some say they could be coach Mark Few’s best. Some domestic pundits have predicted the Zags could go undefeated and win their first domestic championship.

Gonzaga is so good.

The Zags boast a star lineup with Corey Kispert averaging 21.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game; Drew Timme (18.4 points, 7.3 rebounds), Jalen Suggs (13.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists); Joel Ayayi (12.2 points, 8.8 rebounds); and Andrew Nembhard (9.8 points, 4.7 assists).

“Whenever you talk about the Zags, they’re amazing in transition. One to five, they can push it off the rebound, ”Pope said. “This Drew Timme is really amazing because he’s a cross point. You hear about dots ahead all the time. But he doesn’t just push one or two or three dribbles into the transition. He pushes into the transition, making a move or two out of the bounce, then throwing backdoor dimes as if on the descent.

Pope praised Few’s ability to recruit and develop talent through a pipeline that has flowed to Spokane over the years.

“It’s an honor to their staff, their team, their program and their coach. Little and all they did, ”Pope said. “They continue to attract really talented players. What’s amazing is that they have guys who haven’t played in freshman, in red shirts in sophomore, and then they’re all Americans next season.

The Pope called Suggs, a five-star rookie “probably in the top 3 lottery picks” in the NBA draft. Nembhard is a Florida graduate.

The Zags are shooting 55% from the field and averaging 95 points per game. They have scored at least 85 points in each of their 10 games.

BYU (9-2) has failed to allow an opponent 80 points this season.

The Cougars haven’t played since Dec. 23, an 87-79 victory over Weber State. The Cougars have a bye on the program on Saturday. Their next scheduled game will be next Thursday at Saint Mary’s.

For now, BYU is happy to have a game to play.

“I am very grateful to the Zags. I say that now, ”said the coach. “We’ll see what I feel on Thursday night after the game. I can’t say enough good things about them.


Cougars on the air

BYU (9-2, 0-0) at No. 1 Gonzaga (10-0, 1-0)

Thursday, 6:30 p.m. MST

The kennel

TV: ESPN

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

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