One of the reasons that we were so excited when news broke that BYU was joining the WCC was for games like tonight. Instead of having the annual rivalry with St. Mary's as the primary key game in February, the addition of BYU has given Gonzaga an additional two games against tournament-level competition. With the impressive play of LMU this season, the regular-season challenge has prevented this GU team from entering the complacent stage we have see from this program during the month of February in previous years.
With the loss at USF, this game has taken on an even greater measure of significance for both teams. Given the fact that St. Mary's seems to be in a bit of a free fall following the loss of Stephen Holt, both Gonzaga and BYU have to believe that if they can win out, a WCC title could be the reward. Unfortunately for the Zags, the loss to USF means that this group no longer controls their destiny for a 12th consecutive WCC title. If keeping in the race for a WCC championship isn't incentive enough, the blowout loss to the Cougars in Provo on February 2 will certainly ensure that this team comes out swinging.
The two most glaring statistics that jump out from the initial meeting between these teams revolve around turnovers and defense. In the 10-point loss, the Zags committed 19 turnovers, including four from both Kevin Pangos and Elias Harris. In case you haven't noticed with this GU team, when they get careless with the ball, very bad things happen. This is a very good team when it executes the offense and protects the basketball ball, but it also has a very small margin of error, which becomes clear when it gets sloppy.
On the defensive end, Gonzaga allowed BYU to shoot 49.3% from the field as team in the loss on February 2, with Brandon Davies, Noah Harstock and Matt Carlino all hitting over 50% of their shots from the field. While the Zags actually did a decent job defensively on Davies, limiting him to just 15 points, GU was unable to do anything to get Harstock and Carlino out of their offensive rhythm. Although Harstock has the ability to stretch the defense, he is not the kind of guy that should be going for 24 and 14 in a huge game. In order to win this game, Gonzaga needs to make a concerted effort to pick up the pressure and effort defensively to help prevent BYU from settling into an offensive rhythm.
Tonight should provide a very interesting look at the mindset of this Gonzaga team entering the homestretch of the regular-season. While there have certainly been lapses in concentration on the road this season, the Kennel has proven to be a sanctuary once again for the Zags. Do you think this group can get their revenge on BYU, or are the Cougars too proficient from the perimeter?