WCC Tournament Men’s Final Preview: #1 Gonzaga vs. #2 BYU


In many conference tournaments, it’s fun to have some surprises. It’s exciting to root for an underdog who has to win it all to make the NCAA Tournament or head home. But in the WCC this year, it’s just as exciting to have had the bracket play to form and give a #1 vs. #2 matchup in the finals. This is game most fans wanted to see as the Gonzaga Bulldogs and BYU Cougars meet to decide the WCC Championship on Tuesday evening.

March 9, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) shoots the basketball against the Portland Pilots during the first half in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Less than two weeks after the Cougars shocked the Bulldogs and the nation in Spokane by snapping the longest winning streak in the nation, these two WCC powerhouses get another shot at each other. There’s not much left to decide in terms of the postseason as the Bulldogs may be set in their seed, and anything but a blowout loss which probably won’t happen is going to knock BYU out of the field at this point.

But what there is to play for is pride. Gonzaga has dominated this season, but BYU has gotten red hot as of late and has proven they are still a contender to be reckoned with. Another second straight win over the Bulldogs would go a long way to establishing some dominance over the WCC that they have been desperate for since entering the conference. The Bulldogs will still be top dog after this game either way, but BYU has a chance to secure a WCC Championship, an automatic bid to assure their berth in the NCAA Tournament, and the chance to prove that the entire conference isn’t just living in Gonzaga’s dominant shadow.

Both teams have had an up and down road to the finals in Vegas. Gonzaga had awful first halves in their first two games against San Francisco and Pepperdine, but talent prevailed as they pulled away turning both games into easy wins. BYU meanwhile was pushed to the limit by Santa Clara in their opener and needed a late game-winner by Tyler Haws to take it. They showed no hangover however against Portland, and they turned in one of their finest games as Kyle Collinsworth tied the NCAA career record with his 6th triple-double. You could argue that the Cougars will bring even more momentum and confidence into this game than the Bulldogs.

Feb 28, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) brings the ball down court against the Brigham Young Cougars during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Cougars won 73-70. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulldogs will hope that this game is more like the second half of their past couple games versus the first half. If Kevin Pangos is doing well the whole 40 minutes, it will make everyone around him better especially the frontcourt. Przemek Karnowski has shown a lot of scoring prowess recently, but in an ideal world he would focus on defense and rebounding next to Domantas Sabonis. Kyle Wiltjer continues to be one of the best players in the conference, and along with Pangos and Bryon Wesley they will produce plenty of offense.

It may come down to how the Cougars play in this one. They got the upset in Spokane thanks to improved defense and inside presence, much of both coming from breakout star Corbin Kafusi. We know the Cougars have the firepower to out-shoot even the Bulldogs,  so even slightly minimizing the advantage for Gonzaga inside goes a long way for BYU to keep pace with them. They have a dynamic offense, so if the Bulldogs play a poor first half again the Cougars might pull too far ahead for the Zags to recover.

That’s the ideal situation for BYU, but more likely it could turn into a tight game with a lot of offense. This pace favors Gonzaga because they have a better defense and will be happy to force BYU into a lot of bad shots. If that happens and the shooters of the Cougars struggle, the superior players inside for the Bulldogs could turn it into a blowout very quickly like we saw in their last couple games.

More from 2015 WCC Tournament

What will likely happen is Gonzaga will come out slow again, and BYU will come out hot. But with this being too more evenly matched teams, the Cougars won’t be able to pull away as much. Then in the 2nd half, the Bulldogs can chip away inside at the lead and try to use Pangos and others to keep pace on the outside. From there, who knows? The Bulldogs could will their way to a win with the force of Wiltjer inside, or Haws and company will bring the house down with some big shots as the Cougars steal another one.

That’s what is exciting about this one. It could easily go in a lot of different directions. Tip-off is set for 6 pm Pacific on ESPN. This is one you won’t want to miss!