Will The BYU/Gonzaga Basketball Rivalry Continue?

Jan 10, 2023, 11:59 PM | Updated: Jan 11, 2023, 12:00 am

BYU/Gonzaga, Gideon George...

What will happen with the BYU/Gonzaga rivalry? (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – Will Thursday night’s BYU/Gonzaga men’s basketball clash be the last time the Cougars host the Zags in the Marriott Center?

Since BYU’s invitation to the Big 12 Conference, the two programs have expressed interest in putting together home-and-homes in the future. But in the world of conference realignment, things can change quickly. After all, there have been reports that Gonzaga could end up in the Big 12 with BYU. So anything is on the table.

“We haven’t had any conversations like that. I’m just excited to see who’s in the (Big 12) next year. Right? Let’s get to that point first,” said BYU coach Mark Pope when asked if a non-conference series with Gonzaga could start next year. “All we’ve done with scheduling is try to put everything on pause. So we can see exactly where we’re going to be in the league and everything else.”

BYU/Gonzaga in a non-conference series?

One thing we do know is that both programs have enjoyed the 12 years of being in the same league together. Gonzaga head coach Mark Few called the addition of BYU one of the best moves he’s seen in his 30-plus years around the WCC.

“Coach Few has been like, ‘hey, anybody that will play me, let’s go,'” said Pope. “So I think there’s a chance we get that game. We’ve talked about that before. It’s just like, ‘hey, maybe this is something we continue.’ I don’t know, we’ll see.”

Thursday will be the 31st meeting in a series in which the Zags have come away victorious in 23 of the previous 30 meetings.

The series dates back to a neutral court holiday tournament in California in 1949. Then the second meeting was amid Jimmermania in 2011 as Jimmer Fredette took down Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament to lift BYU to its first Sweet 16 in 30 years.

The two schools have been meeting annually as WCC members ever since.

Drew Timme wants BYU/Gonzaga to continue

Count Gonzaga star and All-American Drew Timme as someone who wants the BYU/Gonzaga to resume when the Cougars move to the Big 12.

“I think it’s a special rivalry and one that should continue even past (BYU) leaving the conference. I think it’s something where we should do home-and-homes forever. It’s kind of like –obviously not to the level– Texas and (Texas) A&M,” Timme, a Texas native, said at WCC Media Day in October. “I feel like it’s just developed into such a great rivalry.”

The Gonzaga rivalry is one of many rivalries that BYU will try to juggle in future non-conference schedules as a member of the Big 12 Conference. Not all of them can be on the slate each year. Pope has said that the Utah series probably continues on an annual basis. Then there is San Diego State. Plus, the other in-state programs like Utah State.

But there probably isn’t another potential opponent that could BYU for the rigors of Big 12 basketball than an out-of-league game with the Zags.

The last time BYU defeated Gonzaga was one of the great wins in program history. An upset win over the No. 2 ranked Zags in 2020. It’s a memory that Timme hasn’t forgotten.

“I’ve been a part of them storming the court at their place my freshman year to us obviously waxing them a couple of times. But it’s fun,” said Timme. “It’s a good rivalry because you never know what will happen. And it’s always so intense. They come to The Kennel, that place is top-tier. Then their place is top-tier as well. It’s something special. I think it’s what makes college sports so fun is when the intensity is at an all-time high. It’s something that I feel shouldn’t end because they’re leaving.”

Gideon George witnessed the last BYU win as a recruit

BYU starting forward Gideon George remembers that 2020 game as well. He wasn’t a member of the team yet, but he was on a recruiting visit during that memorable upset. George, now in his final season at BYU, would love his own taste of victory against Gonzaga.

“I want to be on the floor because that was a special moment just being in the crowd, seeing everyone going down to the floor, celebrating with the players,” George said. “I’ve been looking forward to that, like getting a win against the Zags before I’m done. That would be really special just seeing the crowd celebrating with us and storming the court. That would be so cool.”

Gonzaga doesn’t come into this game as high as No. 2, but they still reside among the elite in college hoops. They come into the last scheduled game at the Marriott Center between the two as the 8th-ranked team in the latest AP Top 25 poll.

Pope has often referred to playing Gonzaga annually in the WCC as “a gift.” We’ll have to wait and see if the gift keeps occurring when BYU enters the Big 12.

“This game has been something super meaningful to us. I think it’s super fun for our fans. It’s going to be a super fun gym on Thursday like it always is,” said Pope. “The one thing about Gonzaga is that coach Few and myself, are inclined to keep playing somehow. I don’t know if it’s every year, but keep finding a home-and-home from time to time that we can do.”

No. 8 Gonzaga at BYU

Date: January 12, 20223

Tip: 7:30 p.m. (MT)


Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM/1160 AM)

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch and his BYU basketball coverage on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Will The BYU/Gonzaga Basketball Rivalry Continue?