#2 BYU Cougars vs. #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Date: Tues, March 11, 2014
Location: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nev.
Time: 6:00 p.m. PST
Live stats: http://www.statbroadcast.com/events/tournament.php?tid=19
This Season: Gonzaga and BYU split two matchups with each team winning at home.
Gary Bell Jr.
While both teams have a fairly decent shot of making the NCAA tournament without it, an automatic berth is on the line in the WCC tournament championship game between the BYU Cougars and the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Gonzaga and BYU were the top two seeds in the tournament, and many people hoped that the two would meet in the championship game to make for a fun and exciting matchup.
It’s pretty clear as to why this matchup is desirable among fans. For one, both team’s play different, but enjoyable brands of basketball. The Cougars like to get more up-and-down while the Bulldogs are more methodical and articulate in their half-court sets. Both teams rosters are filled with polarizing players; The Zags boast Kevin Pangos, Sam Dower and David Stockton – son of NBA legend John Stockton (by the way, if I put the over-under at 5 on how many times the announcers say that tonight, which would you take?) – while BYU features the WCC’s leading scorer Tyler Haws, hot-headed big man Eric Mika and everyone’s favorite back-up point guard Matt Carlino.
As fun as the matchup might be for the fans, it will be an absolute grind for the players and coaches. The teams met twice during conference play and each squad notched a win in their home building. The Bulldogs romped on the Cougars at the Kennel in the team’s first of two matchups, with the final score ending up 84-69 in favor Gonzaga. BYU returned the favor to the Bulldogs in Provo, as BYU defeated the Zags 73-65 at the Marriott Center.
This time around, the respective team’s student sections and home court advantages are taken completely out of play as the Bulldogs and Cougars face-off for all the marbles – with the marbles being a WCC tournament championship – in the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.
Keys to the Game
BYU is fresh off a physically draining semifinal game that spilled into overtime while Gonzaga cruised to a 16 point victory in their semifinal game. Theoretically speaking, the Bulldogs should be the more energized team tonight.
To take advantage of this, the Zags need to get out in transition early and hustle for every single loose ball. If the Bulldogs do all of those things and jump out into an early lead, it could be a long evening for the Cougars.
Use Big Guards to Drive to the Bucket
All three of the BYU starting guards are over 6’3” while none of the Gonzaga guards are taller than 6’2”. On top of that, all of BYU’s guards can drive and finish around the rim while many of Gonzaga guards have struggled defending bigger, faster players driving in the lane.
Kyle Collinsworth, Anson Winder and Tyler Haws need to make a living driving to the basket and drawing fouls. The Cougars can control the game if their backcourt does so.
As I said before, the BYU guards are all big, physical and assertive on offensive. At some point, the Bulldogs starting lineup of Kevin Pangos, David Stockton and Gary Bell is not going to get it done against the Cougars backcourt defensively. The Bulldogs need its second best defender behind Bell – Kyle Dranginis – to come up big and likely matchup with either Kyle Collinsworth or Tyler Haws for an extended period of time on the defensive end of the floor.
Matty basketball – the nickname given to Carlino by ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg – is an enigma of a basketball player, but the threat of him dropping 30 on you always lurks in the shadows, waiting to come out at the right time.
For all we know, that 30 point game from Carlino is ready to come out. If Carlino has a big game, it would be tough for Gonzaga to keep up with all of BYU’s weapons offensively and would give the Cougars a distinct advantage, one that would likely lead to a victory.
This is probably the hardest prediction I have had to make all year. Both teams are talented and motivated, especially since both squads are on or close to being on the NCAA tournament bubble. A win here would not only mean a WCC tournament championship, but an automatic pass into the big dance and the luxury of not having to sweat it out on selection Sunday.
With the sides appearing to be unfathomable equalyl, it comes down to recent events. Gonzaga is the fresher team – with the Bulldogs not playing in overtime the night of – and will outlast BYU to claim its spot in its 16th straight NCAA tournament. Gonzaga 77, BYU 75.