Along with sharing conferences, there is another thing that Gonzaga and BYU have in common: a recent understanding of what the word 'heartbreak' means. We all know the Zags' story but some may not know that the Cougars suffered a similarly gut-wrenching loss recently against Saint Mary's. With five seconds left, BYU's Tyler Haws hit a jumper to give the Cougars a 69-67 lead which, at the time, seemed like the dagger. Then, as time expired, Matthew Dellavedova hit a half-court three pointer to give the Gaels a remarkable 70-69 win at the Marriott Center in Provo. Not only did that game crush the collective souls of the Cougar faithful but it also has tremendous conference implications. Now, BYU needs to make up some ground and you can definitely bet that they will be looking to do so tomorrow night as the enter Spokane to take on the 10th ranked Zags.
For Gonzaga, this is no time to let their own heartbreaking loss linger. They've had several days to recover and get it out of their minds and I truly expect them to come out hungry on Thursday night. The Cougars will present a major test that can't be ignored. With talented guards like Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino along with a frontcourt lead by Brandon Davies, there aren't many rosters in the western part of the country that have more pure talent than BYU. Their record shows that as they have gone 15-5 so far this year with losses coming to Florida State, Notre Dame, Iowa State, Baylor, and the aforementioned Saint Mary's Gaels.
BYU is led by Tyler Haws who is a pretty remarkable story. Haws made his debut at BYU during the 2009-10 season. Conventional wisdom would sure tell you that he should be a senior, or junior, at this point but he is just a sophomore as he missed the past two seasons while completing his LDS Mission. Incredibly enough, Haws has come back better than ever after barely even thinking about basketball for two seasons. He has been an extremely prolific scorer this season, averaging 22 points per game on 49% shooting from the floor and 39% from beyond the arc. Haws is going to present a major challenge for the Zags who have allowed talented guards to 'go off' from time to time. Completing BYU's dynamic duo is Brandon Davies. The senior big man who was once a big time Gonzaga recruit when he was coming out of high school has proved to be a special one. In about 27 minutes played per game, the versatile Davies is averaging 18 points and 7 rebounds per game.
Along with finding a way to limit Haws' production, the rebounding battle will be crucial in this contest. The Cougars are averaging about 41 boards per game which is in the upper echelon in division one hoops. Davies leads the way for BYU but they are excellent at hitting the glass and giving their guards more chances to score. We've seen the Zags be vulnerable in that department and nothing lets a team hang around more than allowing them second and third chances in your home gym. Gonzaga has arguably the best frontcourt in the country led by Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris but they will be tested by BYU on Thursday night.
For whatever reason, this does not feel like the type of Gonzaga team that is going to let the Butler loss linger into another performance. I feel like Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk really come out and make a statement early against the Cougars and establish their dominance in the McCarthey Athletic Center. I'm hopeful that Gonzaga's guards will get some chances and I'm looking for the staff to perhaps focus on getting Gary Bell going. In the end, I think the Zags keep a nice margin between them and the Cougars and pick up another big conference win.