Gonzaga’s road to at least a share of an 11th consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season title has been tougher than anticipated.
The No. 8 Bulldogs (14-3 overall, 3-0 WCC) will wrap up a three-game trip against BYU (13-6, 3-1) on Thursday night in Provo, Utah. Gonzaga, however, won its last two conference games by a mere seven combined points.
The Zags edged host San Francisco 77-75 last Thursday before recording an 81-76 victory at Santa Clara on Saturday.
“We had to fight, and we had to dig,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I wish we didn’t have to go through stuff like that. I guess if you put your hand on the hot stove, you’re going to get burned. … If we don’t come out and play with great energy and connectivity and passion, then we’re going to be beat. Our margin of error is way less.”
Unlike the past two years, when Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren were selected among the top five picks in the NBA draft, these Zags don’t have any obvious first-round picks.
But they still have Drew Timme.
The senior forward, recently named to the midseason top 25 watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, overcame a cold-shooting first half to score 20 points at Santa Clara.
“They didn’t go early, then they started falling,” Timme said. “It was nice to get them to fall, but I wasn’t worried. Everyone has a game like that. What was I doing, 23 (points per game) and nine (rebounds per game) or something crazy? It was bound to happen.”
The Cougars are off to a strong start in WCC play despite opening with three of their first four games on the road. They rebounded from a 64-59 loss at Loyola Marymount last Thursday with a 68-48 victory at San Diego on Saturday.
“We played three of our first four league games on the road and I think we might be the only team that’s doing that,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “For this young team to come away winning three of four, that’s super impressive. I thought it was a terrific effort.”
This will be the last time the Cougars play host to Gonzaga as members of the WCC, with BYU set to join the Big 12 next season.
The Zags lead the series 23-7 in the dozen years the schools have been members of the same conference.
“For us, they certainly draw a ton of attention. They’ve been pretty dominant in our matchups. But we’ve had some big wins that are super important,” Pope said. “Over the last several years, we’ve both spent a lot of time on the national stage. Certainly, they’ve been the leader of this conference. There’s no doubt. It’s super fun. Those are the two venues in our league where you’re sold out and there’s a frenzy about it. For the last couple of years, we’ve been top-25 programs, so it makes it really fun.
“On a personal level, coach Few has been so generous to me and so kind. It’s a great game that we love so much even though sometimes it can be madly frustrating.”
–Field Level Media