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Gonzaga vs. BYU game preview: Zags shoot for second place WCC finish

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Unfortunately, that shot is coming in one of the hardest arenas to win in on the West Coast.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

When BYU beat the Zags at home way back forever ago, that should have been the first indicator that there was something definitely different about this team. In the game, the Zags lost the lead on Nick Emery's only shot of the night. The Zags had one last chance to win, but Wiltjer's final shot was blocked to seal the loss.

From there it seemed that BYU was the cream of the WCC crop, but then there were the baffling losses to Portland, Pepperdine and Pacific along the way. The Pacific loss is particularly incriminating because it happened at home.

Gonzaga can't hold the WCC crown, but there is plenty on the line. If the Zags win, they take second place in the conference and have that much of an easier path in the WCC Tournament. If BYU wins, the Zags finish third.

Meet the opponent

BYU Cougars, 22-8, KenPom #58

BYU is a high-octane scoring machine. The Cougars average 84 points per game, seventh highest in the nation, and run the ball relentlessly. Their average possession length is a mere 14.6 seconds, the ninth lowest in the nation. To put that in perspective, the Zags hang onto the ball on average for 17.3 seconds per possession.

The Cougars have four scorers powering this offense. Chase Fischer, Kyle Collinsworth, Kyle Davis and Nick Emery. Collinsworth is the player everyone knows about, and has earned the right to probably be named WCC Player of the Year. He is averaging 15.2 points, 8 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He is a big guard who sees the floor with the best of them.

Emery, the Gonzaga killer we will have to get used to, is the dangerous one of the four to watch out for. Against the Zags last time around, by all accounts he had a bad game, minus his game-winning three. Emery can turn it on, however, as seen by hitting 10-of-12 threes against San Francisco earlier this month. He is an incredibly streaky shooter, though, practically hitting well over or well under 50 percent of his shots each game without much of a middle ground.

BYU doesn't run out the deepest team. Generally speaking, it is an eight-man rotation that Coach Dave Rose sends out. The good news is that the post players for BYU still don't compare in any way, shape or form to the post players for Gonzaga. Last time around against BYU, Domantas Sabonis was highly limited by foul trouble and the Zags had to shove Ryan Edwards in for an inordinate amount of time.

What to watch out for

How the Zags handle the road environment.

Every place in the WCC is usually bad for Gonzaga to play in. Moraga takes the cake because of Saint Mary's, but BYU could easily be in that realm as well. The Marriott Center at Provo packs in thousands of blood thirsty maniacs who have are utterly convinced that every single call made against their team is a bad one. Seriously, listening to the BYU crowd on the broadcast is that god damn annoying.

That said, that is what a good home crowd does. They make the road fans loathe you. Gonzaga needs to keep their heads squarely on their shoulders for this game, because the moment it starts to get out of hand, the crowd is going to let them know it--and then some.

We need a superhuman game from Kyle Wiltjer

Wiltjer is averaging 17.1 points per game in Februrary, which seems pretty good. It is also pretty pedestrian from the Gonzaga forward, for his standards. Yeah, he has that game against SMU weighing him down, but we haven't seen a 30 point explosion from Wiltjer in a month. He has done it five times this season, and, although Gonzaga doesn't necessarily need him to do it again tomorrow, any and all points he pours in will be quite welcome. Whether he wants to be or not, Wiltjer is the face of this team and he needs to step up, put the team on his back, and drag us out of Provo with a win.

Has Silas Melson finally turned that corner?

The much maligned Gonzaga guard has been phenomenal in four of the past five games. His improved play has given the Zags another weapon from the backcourt, which is good considering that Josh Perkins, Kyle Dranginis, and Eric McClellan are still inconsistent in their production. Melson didn't have a good game against Saint Mary's, but no one did. He did have a great game against SMU on the road, burying huge threes that helped Gonzaga keep within a fighter's reach for the beginning of the second half. The BYU guards are good and they are aggressive. If Melson can successfully have a good game in Provo, I think we can all agree he has earned any and all minutes he receives.

Zags have to play better than last time around.

In the last game against BYU, Gonzaga entered with a slight lead, which seemed promising, except for the fact that BYU didn't hit a three-pointer in the first half. That is a rarity for BYU. Gonzaga only averaged 0.91 points per possession against BYU earlier this year, and that same rate of scoring will do nothing but ensure a loss.