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BYU Vs. Gonzaga: Game Day Preview Plus Score Prediction

Feb 5, 2022, 12:01 AM
BYU - Gonzaga - Alex Barcello - Te'Jon Lucas...
SPOKANE, WA - JANUARY 13: Alex Barcello (13) uses a screen from Te'Jon Lucas (3) of the Brigham Young Cougars to get away from Rasir Bolton #45 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the first half of the game between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Brigham Young Cougars at the McCarthey Athletic Center on January 13, 2022 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Robert Johnson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Johnson/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah –ย A few weeks ago, there was a chance that BYU vs Gonzaga in the Marriott Center was going to be a battle to determine first place in the West Coast Conference. Then BYU went on a three-game losing streak making this game look like many the No. 2 Zags see in WCC play, an opponent on paper that appears outmatched.

But unlike all of the other teams in the West Coast Conference, BYU boasts a venue that can rattle any opponent, including the heralded Zags.

Gonzaga’s last WCC loss was two years ago to BYU in Provo. ESPN’s Sean Farnham, who will be on the call tonight with Dave Flemming and Molly McGrath, called that night two years ago one of the best atmospheres he has seen in college basketball.

There’s always a chance. But if BYU wants to pull off the massive upset, they need answers on the offensive end.

Two nights ago, in a blowout loss to San Francisco at the Marriott Center, BYU’s offense outside of Alex Barcello and freshman Atiki Ally Atiki was non-existent. Oddly enough, one of BYU’s best offensive performances this season came against the Zags in the first meeting back on January 13. BYU lost 110-84, but they had an efficient performance on the offensive end from Caleb Lohner and shot the three at 44% as a team.

A lot has changed with BYU since that meeting nearly a month ago. BYU’s confidence is rattled after setbacks to Santa Clara, Pacific, and USF. No. 2 Gonzaga, on the other hand, continues to do what the Zags do, roll through the West Coast Conference with ease.

BYU vs. No. 2 Gonzaga

Tip: 8 p.m. (MT)

Location: Marriott Center (Provo, Utah)

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM – Pregame begins at 7 p.m.)

Last meeting: Gonzaga 110, BYU 84 – January 13, 2022, in Spokane

Can BYU regain its identity?ย 

The confidence of this BYU team that was once as high as No. 12 in the AP Top 25 polls has suddenly crumbled over this three-game stretch. To the point where BYU coach Mark Pope feels his team’s identity has been lost in this recent stretch.

The tough rebounding team that BYU established earlier this year hasn’t shown itself in recent games.

Trying to reestablish that toughness against one of the nation’s biggest teams poses a bunch of challenges. Freshman Fousseyni Traore has struggled in the second meetings against league foes. Against San Francisco on Thursday, Traore, a big reason for BYU overachieving despite injuries to Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward, was held to zero field goal makes.

Traore, Lohner, and Atiki will all have to be tough on the glass in hopes that Gonzaga misses some shots this time around. In the first meeting against BYU, Gonzaga shot a blistering 69% from the field.

But it’s not just the frontcourt; BYU’s guard line has to be exceptional in order for BYU to have a chance to pull off the upset. Super seniors Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas can’t have bad performances. Barcello was one of the few bright spots offensively for BYU against USF; Lucas struggled, shooting 1-of-5 from the field and 0-of-4 from the free-throw line. Mark Pope is a believer in seniors being able to do magical things.

It was a magical night when Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, and Jake Toolson delivered a win two years ago against the Zags. That same magic has to show itself again from BYU’s senior class this time around if they want to keep it close.

Will Mark Pope change the lineup again?

Pope moved Caleb Lohner out of the starting five to insert Gideon George to provide more mobility in the loss to San Francisco. After the loss, Pope said each game could lend itself to retooling the lineup to find a rotation that works. Right now, the third-year coach is struggling to find a rotation and lineups that he likes on a nightly basis.

What to know about Gonzaga

Gonzaga rolls into Provo at 18-2 overall, 7-0 in West Coast Conference play. The Zags boast the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense, averaging 90.9 points per game. Five of their first seven games in league play have been won by 30 points or more.

All five of Gonzaga’s starting lineup is averaging over 10 points per game or more, and it’s led by the frontcourt duo of Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, who combine for 32.3 points a night.

In the first meeting last month, Gonzaga poured in 91 points through 30 minutes of action against BYU. That was the second-most points scored this season by an NCAA team through 30 minutes, behind only another Gonzaga performance of 92 against Pepperdine.

The last performance against BYU was historical in how dominant the Zags were. They were the only Division I team in the previous 25 years to have a player with 30 points on 90% shooting from the field (Timme), another with 20 points and 10 assists (Andrew Nembhard), a player with 20 points in under 25 minutes (Julian Strawther), and another guy with five blocks (Holmgren).

You don’t need me to tell you, but Gonzaga looks poised for another run to a third Final Four in five tournaments.

Probable Starters

BYU (17-7, 5-4 WCC)

G โ€“ Alex Barcello, 6-2, 192, Sr.

G โ€“ Teโ€™Jon Lucas, 6-1, 187, Sr.

G โ€“ Trevin Knell, 6-5, 197, Jr.

F โ€“ Gideon George, 6-6, 210, Sr.

F โ€“ Fousseyni Traore, 6-6, 254, Fr.

No. 2 Gonzaga (18-2, 7-0 WCC)

G โ€“ Andrew Nembhard, 6-5, 193, Sr.

G โ€“ Rasir Bolton, 6-3, Sr.

G โ€“ Julian Strawther, 6-7, 205, Soph.

F โ€“ Drew Timme, 6-10, 235, Jr.

C โ€“ Chet Holmgren, 7-0, 195, Fr.

BYU vs Gonzaga Prediction

Playing the No. 2 team in the NET rankings isn’t going to be a devastating blow to BYU if they lose. What could hurt them is if they get blown out. Advanced metrics like KenPom don’t look fondly on teams that get blown out. BYU dropped eight spots in the Pomeroy ratings after falling by double-digits to San Francisco on Thursday.

BYU has to give the home crowd something to cheer about early in the contest and give them belief. For the first time in the Mark Pope era, there are more questions than answers. Even Pope himself will admit this is new territory that his staff has yet to experience. If they lose as many project to them do, it will be the first four-game losing streak at BYU since the 2013-14 season. Because of its tough non-conference schedule eight years ago, that team was still able to manage an at-large bid into the NCAAs. Maybe a similar fate lies ahead for this year’s group.

A win over the Zags would zoom BYU back up the projections and negate that bad loss to Pacific a week ago.

Two years ago, BYU had a decisive advantage over Gonzaga as the best three-point shooting team in the land. However, looking at this matchup, there’s not one thing you can point to where BYU has a clear-cut advantage over the Zags.

Mark Pope’s team won’t roll over and die; they’ve shown that in each of these losses during the three-game skid. But Gonzaga is too much for this BYU team struggling with its identity.

Gonzaga 84, BYU 68

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

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BYU Vs. Gonzaga: Game Day Preview Plus Score Prediction