Gonzaga Bulldogs (22-7, 14-3) at BYU Cougars (22-8, 13-4)
When: Saturday, February 27 at 6 p.m. Mountain (5 p.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. Eastern)
Where: Marriott Center, Provo, Utah
Series: Gonzaga leads 9-5, BYU won last meeting 69-68 in Spokane
Save the best for last, right? Gonzaga at BYU is the most important game of the WCC season, so here it is on the final day.
What's at stake?
At tip time the Zags will be tied with the Gaels for first place in the WCC while BYU will be a game back. Whichever team wins will remain alive, for at least a few more hours, in the hunt for the regular season title. Gonzaga can still claim the title outright with a win followed by a Saint Mary's loss (the Gaels play at San Francisco). BYU can only hope for a tie, a three-way tie, with a win and a Gaels' loss. BYU has yet to win a WCC regular season title.
However, if BYU were to get that three way tie they'd claim the top seed in the upcoming WCC Tournament on tiebreaker.
Gonzaga would earn the top seed with a win and a Gaels loss, thanks to their outright regular season title. A tie between the Gaels and Zags would give Saint Mary's the one seed on tiebreaker. So, speaking of tournaments...
While the Cougars' NCAA at-large hopes have been all-but gone for a few weeks, they can still get into the dance. Another RPI top-100 win would boost their seed line should they win the WCC Tournament's automatic bid. Depending on which bracketologist you ask Gonzaga is either barely clinging to an at-large spot or on the outside looking in. A win in Provo would help their case while a loss would likely knock them off of the bubble.
Scouting the Zags
All season long it's been Kyle Wiltjer (20.2 ppg) and Domantas Sabonis (17.8 ppg) for the Zags. That's still the case, just the order is reversed. In the month of February it's been Sabonis who has stepped up for the Zags. Or rather, Sabonis hasn't faded into the background at times like Wiltjer. In February the sophomore forward is outscoring the former Kentucky Wildcat 17.9 ppg to 17.1 ppg.
The Zags will hope to find a balance between the recent performances and the last time they played BYU, a game in which Wiltjer scored 35 points to Sabonis' five.
Unlike in that game back in January the Zags aren't a one-dimensional, feed the big fellas focused team anymore. The young backcourt duo of Josh Perkins (10 ppg) and Silas Melson, who is coming off a career high 18 ponts, have really matured. Perkins led the team in scoring in their loss to Saint Mary's on February 20 and Melson led the team in Thursday's win over San Diego.
Scouting the Cougars
BYU's breakneck pace on offense — the Cougars are the tenth fastest team in the nation according to KenPom — is effective in large part because of the presence of Cousy Award Finalist Kyle Collinsworth. The 6-foot-6 senior point guard is coming off his NCAA record 11th career triple-double. He scores (15.3 ppg) mostly inside the arc, taking advantage of his size while attacking the basket. He crashes the glass (7.8 rpg) as well as any guard in the game. And he willingly defers (7.5 apg) to the Cougars' array of shooters.
Senior shooting guard Chase Fischer (18.1 ppg) and super-freshman Nick Emery (16 ppg) are capable of lighting it up nightly, as is freshman reserve Zac Seljaas (7 ppg). Both Emery and Seljaas have been Mid-Major Madness Freshmen of the Week this season.
It's safe to say the Cougars' focus is on the offensive end of the floor. Defensively, though, they're shaky.
Last week, due to a scheduling quirk, BYU faced travel partner San Diego twice. In the first game the Cougars allowed the Toreros' abysmal offense to put up 67 points (the Cougars won by just two). San Diego averages 0.89 points per possession this season and under 60 points per game. Two days later the Toreros reverted to form and with 14 minutes left against BYU they had a total of 14 points scored.
Keys to the Game
For Gonzaga, lock down on the Cougars' shooters. The Zags quietly, and surprisingly, boast the nation's second best three point percentage defense. They've held Division I opponents to a paltry 29% from behind the arc this season. BYU, on the other hand, shoots 38.4% from distance.
For BYU it's own the glass. The Cougars will need to make sure the Zags, particularly Domantas Sabonis (11.8 rpg), aren't able to get second chance opportunities. Because Gonzaga is capable, though they would rather not, of playing at BYU's blistering pace the Cougars won't simply be able to run the Zags out of the gym. Their advantage lies in limiting Gonzaga to one shot.