I'm going to eschew the normal brand of game previews because this isn't a normal game. Tonight, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will take on the BYU Cougars for the final game of the regular season. Tonight, it is Senior Night, and the Bulldogs will finally send off the likes of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who quite honestly feel like they have been playing at Gonzaga forever.
With Pangos and Bell, that is the thing you hear all the time across the national media. These two have logged a ton of games in the backcourt together and are as synonymous with any team's identity throughout the college landscape. The two are winningest senior class in program history, and Kevin Pangos is tied with Wichita State's Tekele Cotton as the senior with the most wins in all of NCAA hoops.
Pangos gave us a ton to get excited about when he first decided to drop nine threes on Washington State to tie the school record -- in just his second game. Gary Bell was never as flashy and his career lines of 9.7 points and 2.0 assists per game reflect that. But he is the first player in a long while that you felt dependable on for the defensive end. Bell routinely drew the hardest matchup and made it his priority to shut it down. In the meantime, he threw out some incredibly gusty performances. I'll always remember the game in the NCAA Tournament against Ohio State, where little old baby Bell scored 18 points and often times looked like the best player on the court.
That was eons ago. There was heartbreak in between. A lot of heartbreak. There was that surprising Kelly Olynyk year and the loss to Wichita State. There was three consecutive exits in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for one of the best backcourt pairs the Gonzaga Bulldogs had ever seen.
This year, it seems different. Gonzaga is about to run the table, again, as if that is an easy thing to do. Although there have been some pitfalls along the way, a few close calls, gut checks and the like, Gonzaga has outscored its WCC opponents by 16 points per game this season.
BYU is that final hurdle, and it is fitting that to close out this season, we get to face the tough competition to ready ourselves for the NCAA Tournament. Facing BYU is the perfect opponent, because although all WCC opponents are bloodthirsty for a win at Spokane, BYU is especially famished. As Eamonn Brennan of ESPN wrote earlier on Friday, BYU is as firmly on the debatable portion of the bubble as possible.
So don't look past this BYU team that holds Tyler Haws, one of the best scorers in the nation and the best scorer BYU (and its long line of elite scorers) has ever seen. Kyle Collinsworth is one of the better all-around players in college hoops -- as seen by setting the NCAA record for most triple-doubles in a season.
For perspective, the co-leaders in the NBA for triple-doubles, Rajon Rondo and Michael Carter-Williams, each have three this season. (Nevermind: Russell Westbrook had two consecutive triple-doubles this week and now has five -- but the point is still the same).
This game is going to be entertaining to watch and this game is going to be a statement for either team. Either Gonzaga is going to come out and say we deserve this No. 1 seed, or BYU is going to come out and say we deserve a trip to the NCAA. It'll all happen under the guise of Senior Night as the Gonzaga faithful and the city of Spokane say good bye to its longest tenured members (and Byron Wesley) with the team on the verge of showing how great it can be.
Anyone that doesn't watch college basketball is truly missing out.
Time: 7 p.m. PT
Radio: AM 1510 KGA (Spokane), AM 880 KIXI (Seattle), AM 1360 KUIK (Portland)