No. 25 Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-4, 13-1) at BYU Cougars (18-10, 10-5)
Date: Thursday, February 20, 2014
Location: Marriott Center, Provo, Utah.
Last Matchup: Gonzaga defeated the Cougars in Spokane 84-69.
Gary Bell Jr.
Both BYU and Gonzaga could use a quality conference victory to boost their tournament resumes.
The Bulldogs are in good shape, but a win in Provo could certainly improve their seeding.
BYU on the other hand needs another quality victory to have any shot of an at-large bid. A win against the Zags would suffice.
Although Gonzaga has a proverbial stranglehold on the WCC regular season championship, barring a colossal collapse, this game is very important due to the aforementioned reasons.
I chatted with West Coast Convo’s faithful BYU writer Andrew Perkins about the upcoming game. Our conversation can be read below. Enjoy!
Josh: First and foremost, let’s start off by talking about BYU’s big victory on Saturday against the Gaels. A lot of things happened in that contest that could influence what transpires between the Cougars and Bulldogs this Thursday. How do you think coach Rose will build off this victory and what to expect from BYU against Gonzaga?
Andrew: When you look at the distribution of minutes, it’s pretty clear that coach Rose is still willing to tweak the rotation. That tells me that his team knows if they’re not going to tighten up the defense, they’re going to sit. If they’re not playing effectively, they need players in who can play effectively. That Pacific loss made BYU look extremely soft inside, and weak overall. In contrast, that SMC win showed the Cougars can indeed grind it out. I really didn’t know they had it in them. But I’m interested to see who is the more physical team on Thursday. Coach Rose is going to put guys in who get the job done on both ends. It’s a little disconcerting that the rotation is still fluid this late in the season, but it is better late than never.
To be fair, though, SMC’s bigs missed a bunch of shots down low, which made BYU look better.
Andrew: Can Karnowski finish?
Josh: He’s done much better as of late on the offensive end of the floor. He’s posted double-digit points in his last three games, and his left-handed hook shot that he loves to resort to has been falling. He’s more important to the Zags on the defensive end of the floor though, so if he struggles on the offensive end it will not hurt a ton.
Josh: A player on the BYU side that I will keep an eye on is Kyle Collinsworth, who had an apparent knee injury on Saturday. Apparently the X-rays were good, but what do you think we should expect from Collinsworth on Thursday?
Andrew: So much of the good he does requires the explosive use of his knees. The rebounds, the drives to the hoop – BYU needs that. Plus, he needs the ability to close out on Pangos. KC hasn’t been extremely impressive on D this season. If that knee isn’t 100%, Kevin Pangos will be more likely go Bobby Sharp/Jason Calliste/Chaz Williams/Evan Payne/Pacific Tigers/Pangos Part I on the Cougars. And that’s a nightmare I’d rather not endure yet again. It really all depends on how he’s feeling. The only person that knows whether he’ll help or hurt the Cougars is KC. I just hope he’s fully honest and humble about it. Gotta put the most effective 5 on the floor.
Andrew: Who would you be more scared to play against? Carlino at 100% or KC at 80%?
Josh: Carlino at 100 percent, for sure. He takes a lot of flak from fans of opposing teams and his own team as well, but he can play. That is for certain. Gonzaga has struggled with perimeter defense in the past, and Carlino has the ability to sling it from deep. The Zags need to account for him at all times, because he has the ability to drop 28 points in 26 minutes, like he did against Pacific. Collinsworth will get his numbers regardless, but I don’t think he is the type of player that strikes fear in opposing teams.
Josh: What player on Gonzaga scares you the most and why?
Andrew: Gary Bell Jr. If his defense is on point, BYU is going to have a tough time getting buckets. If his shot is falling, game over. He’s quick enough to slash and kick, which gets Pangos some open looks.
And if Pangos gets open looks, good night and good luck. Then, if BYU goes with the 3-2, they’ll get it down to Karnowski and/or Dower, who are tough in their own right.
Bell Jr. can just create so many problems on both ends of the floor, he may be that next guy that has a career night against BYU. I bet Oregon’s Jason Calliste wishes he had a bottle of that BYU-game magic that he could go all Axe Body Spray on himself right now.
Andrew: Which is more daunting – FedEx Forum or the Marriott Center?
Josh: I would be speaking for the team itself, but I would say FedEx forum. The Zags have played awful in Provo in recent years, but at least they are somewhat familiar with the Marriott Center and have an idea of what to expect. Nonetheless, both places are very tough places to play.
Josh: Let’s get down to business. Predictions for Thursday’s game?
Andrew: Goodness. I’ve never been more unsure about a result in my life.
Halford went from confident starter to nervous wreck in a matter of games. Collinsworth’s got a bum knee. Mika’s up and down. Haws has had some cold shooting nights as of late. But then again – Haws is a microwave, Mika is tough as nails, KC may go on adrenaline alone and Halford might try one of those Jamba Juice smoothies that’s supposed to mellow you out.
So BYU will make their runs, but I think it ends up like last year. BYU makes a great run, but the Zags shut the door. Maybe 78-72 this time around in favor of the Zags. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cougars won a 85-70 blitzing.
Josh: There is something about Provo that always gets to the Zags. I am not sure what it is, but there is an aura about that place that is not favorable to Gonzaga. I think BYU takes it in a low scoring bout. 66-60 Cougars.