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No. 23 BYU Hosts No. 2 Gonzaga In Cougars Biggest Stage Of WCC Era

PROVO, Utah – It has been a long time since BYU had a game that had national implications riding on the contest for both teams involved. The college basketball world will be watching on Saturday night when No. 23 BYU (22-7, 11-3 WCC) hosts No. 2 Gonzaga (27-1, 13-0 WCC) at the Marriott Center (8 p.m. MST).

You have to go back to Jimmer Fredette’s senior season in 2011 to find a game where BYU was in the national conversation leading up to tip-off. It makes Saturday night’s showdown the biggest of BYU’s time in the West Coast Conference (since 2011) and it has large impacts on both the team’s potential NCAA Tournament seeding.

If Kansas-Baylor isn’t your speed, BYU and Gonzaga are the teams that will provide the next biggest game college hoops has to offer this weekend.

Many around college hoops would say Kansas or Baylor are the best teams in the land but don’t tell that to BYU head coach Mark Pope.

“I don’t know how you win all your games and mysteriously go from number one to two. That doesn’t make any sense. I think they’re the best team in the country right now,” said Pope when asked about this year’s Gonzaga team.

The last time these two teams met was five weeks ago in The Kennel. BYU was without Yoeli Childs due to a dislocated finger and the Zags rolled to a 23-point win. BYU knows they’ll have to play a lot better than they did in Spokane if they want to take down the Zags who boast the third biggest team in college basketball and starting five that all average at least 10 points per game.

“We’re gonna have to fight every single possession,” said Jake Toolson to KSL Sports. “We feel like we left some things on the floor the last time we played them. Maybe a few plays away from turning the outcome of the game. But credit to them for taking that one from us. We’re gonna fight every possession and we’re gonna have to rebound. I think we’re gonna shoot the ball and playing at the Marriott Center is an incredible atmosphere. The ROC’s going to be crazy and I can’t even wait, I wanna tip it off, let’s go!”

When Toolson says BYU is going to shoot the ball, they will need to shoot it a lot better than they did against Santa Clara on Thursday. In the win over the Broncos, BYU knocked down only three three-pointers and still put up 85 points. But the Zags are the nation’s best offense, three-pointers from Toolson, TJ Haws, and Alex Barcello will have to be going down if BYU has any hopes of pulling off the upset.

The last time BYU defeated Gonzaga in Provo was six years ago in 2014. Emotions will be running high for BYU on Senior Night and there wouldn’t be a better way to send off the Cougars seven seniors than with a signature win over one of the nation’s best teams.

“It’s gonna be sheer insanity. The joint is sold out. We’ve won seven in a row, they’ve won a lot in a row. We’ve got this incredible senior class that has given their heart and soul to BYU and to these fans and to this program,” said Pope. “It’s what makes senior night great.

“We’ve talked a long time about seniors being magic and these guys, with everything they’ve gone through in their respective careers, the last home game of their career as seniors is the first time that they’ve ever been ranked. Two ranked teams going head-to-head in the Marriott Center in a sold-out arena winning seven in a row … what these seniors have accomplished is breathtaking. It really is breathtaking. We got a chance to duke it out in front of the whole BYU nation against the best team in America on Saturday. We couldn’t ask for anything more. We’re so excited.”

Gonzaga’s Mark Few on his expectations for the atmosphere at BYU

“It’ll be as good of a college basketball environment as there is in the country,” said Few. “There will probably be 19,000 there and it’ll be electric. Obviously BYU is having a phenomenal year and technically they are still in the league race. So there’s a lot on the line. These games are a lot of fun and it’s a great opportunity for a Quad one win for us. We’ll need to play great to come out of there with a win. Great challenge.”

What to Watch For – Three-Point Shooting

Since BYU’s loss to Gonzaga five weeks ago in The Kennel, the Cougars have averaged 12 three-point field goals per game. Gonzaga hasn’t given up 10 three-pointers in a game since Thanksgiving. BYU is the number one three-point field goal shooting in the country at 42.2 percent. Gonzaga is first in the WCC at limiting their opponent’s three-point field goal rate at 31 percent per game.

Killian Tillie’s status is always questionable

Mark Few said after Gonzaga’s win over San Francisco on Thursday night that Zags forward Killian Tillie is questionable every day and that he is not going to predict Tillie’s availability. Tillie has been battling through three different injuries this season. Despite the uncertain status prior to the Zags game against USF, Tillie dropped 22 points and had nine rebounds in the 71-54 win over the Dons.

Bracketology Projections prior to BYU vs. Gonzaga

Heading into Saturday night, both Gonzaga and BYU are projected in all 93 of the Bracketology projections on the “Bracket Matrix,” a site that aggregates all of the Bracketologists forecasts on the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga currently sits at No. 1 seed with BYU at a 7-seed.

If BYU wins, the Cougars could be in the conversation for a 5-seed. A loss for the Zags could drop Gonzaga from the one-line down to a two-seed.

No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 23 BYU

TV: ESPN2

Tip: 8 p.m. (MST)

Radio: KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM, 1160 AM

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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