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Three Things To Watch During BYU Vs. No. 8 Gonzaga

Jan 12, 2023, 10:13 AM
Gonzaga, BYU...
BYU hosts Gonzaga for the last time at the Marriott Center as members of the West Coast Conference. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – BYU will look to pull off an upset against No. 8 Gonzaga tonight at the Marriott Center. It’s always a big game when these two teams square off in West Coast Conference play.

BYU has been an up-and-down team this season. The good news for Cougar fans is that BYU has performed well against ranked teams this season. BYU has faced two Top 25 squads this year (San Diego State and Creighton); they are 1-1 in those games. None of which have been played in the Marriott Center.

If BYU is going to spring an upset, hosting a game at the Marriott Center is a good place to make it happen. Mark Pope’s teams have only lost seven times at the comfortable confines of the Marriott Center since he took over the program in 2019.

Tip-off for BYU/Gonzaga tonight is at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN, KSL NewsRadio, and here on KSL Sports.

Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s matchup.

#1 Will BYU’s defensive success carry over against high-powered Gonzaga?

BYU boasts the best defense in the league through four games of West Coast Conference play. They’ve held their league foes under 60 points in BYU’s three wins. The one conference setback was against LMU, and the Lions only scored 64.

But here comes Gonzaga, the number four scoring offense in the land (85.9), and a team that boasts the best field goal percentage nationally (51.8%). So can BYU’s recent success on defense hold up against Gonzaga? A squad with firepower everywhere you look, with Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, Anton Watson, and others.

“One of the nice things for our team that is not the case always is that we’ve had some successful stretches offensively and some where we’re completely dysfunctional offensively and usually that sucks away your defensive energy. But our guys have refused to let that happen,” said BYU coach Mark Pope. “That’s a credit to them that they are going to come and guard every possession regardless of what the outcome is on the other side of the ball, what the frustration level of the game is or how dire the situation is, they have been really committed to selling out on the defensive side of the ball. If we keep doing that, we’re going to keep getting better there.”

If BYU pulls off the upset, transition defense will be vital. Gonzaga comes into the matchup at No. 2 in the WCC in tempo.

“These Zags, man, there is a price of admission to even compete in the game and you don’t get a chance to compete in the game if you don’t guard in transition,” Pope said. “If you can’t compete with them on the glass, you don’t get a chance to compete in the game. Those are massive keys. They always have been hallmarks of Coach Few’s program over the last two decades. They are some of the reasons their team is so special, and they do a million other things that make them nearly impossible to stop.”

#2 Drew Timme

BYU fans probably don’t want to hear this, but Gonzaga star Drew Timme is only getting better in his fourth season in Spokane. Timme is averaging 21.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. All of those averages are career highs for a two-time consensus All-American.

“Freaking Drew Timme,” said Mark Pope. “I mean how many years does he have left? Go be a pro already. He has been the face of that program for a decade it seems like. He is one of the best players in the country and he does it his own way. He does it in a way that no one else has figured out. What do you do with him? Every different look you give him, he has a special answer for. He is a tough competitor. He is everything you want in a leader.”

Despite BYU’s limitations in the frontcourt, the effort BYU brings on the glass has been impressive this year. The Cougars are 12th nationally in rebound margin, outrebounding their opponents by eight boards per game. They will need at least that to contend with Timme and Gonzaga’s frontcourt.

Fousseyni Traore and Gideon George have been great on the glass for BYU this season. Plus, BYU has a guard line willing to contend for rebounds. Of course, you’re not going to stop Timme, but BYU has to find a way to slow him down.

#3 Three-Point shooting

BYU’s three-point shooting has been a problem this season. The Cougars come into the Gonzaga showdown at 240th nationally in three-point percentage at 32.7%. Mark Pope told his team two weeks ago that he had a dream his squad would end up shooting 35% for the season. That would mean they finish out the year shooting around 40%.

Cash in on that dream tonight if they take down Gonzaga. BYU needs to hit at least 35% from three if they want to pull off the upset. Gonzaga isn’t the juggernaut they’ve been in recent years, but the Zags still shoot 38% from distance to pair up with their star power in the post.

A key player to watch for BYU is Jaxson Robinson. When he began the season, Robinson was a shy, quiet player. However, as the season progresses, we see him become more vocal in practice. Tonight is a big stage for the former Top-100 recruit to continue establishing himself as a cornerstone piece heading into the Big 12.

BYU/Gonzaga: Tip-time and TV info

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

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM in Salt Lake City)

Online radio stream: KSLsports.com

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 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch and his BYU basketball coverage on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Three Things To Watch During BYU Vs. No. 8 Gonzaga