Provo, UT (SportsNetwork.com) - West Coast Conference play gets underway for a pair of teams on Saturday, as the eighth-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs come calling on the BYU Cougars.
Gonzaga is once again off to a tremendous start, the team winning 11 of its first 12 games, including signature victories over Georgia (88-76), St. John's (73-66) and UCLA (87-74). The Bulldogs' lone setback came in a 66-63 overtime decision at Arizona on Dec. 6, but they have bounced back to win four in a row. Their most recent outing took place last Saturday at home, as they knocked off Cal Poly in a 63-50 final.
Gonzaga is 15-0 in West Coast Conference openers under Mark Few, and the team has won 18 straight league lid lifters in all, with the last loss coming during the 1995-96 season.
BYU is off to a solid start as well, the club claiming victory in 10 of its first 13 bouts. Since suffering a 65-61 defeat at the hands of in-state rival Utah on Dec. 10, the Cougars have reeled off three straight wins, including a 79-77 verdict versus Stanford, and a 77-71 overtime decision against UMass on Tuesday. Both wins came at home, where BYU is 6-1 this season.
Gonzaga is 6-3 in the series with BYU, and it will be trying to avenge a 73-65 loss the last time the teams met at the Marriott Center. Overall, the Bulldogs are 1-2 in Provo.
Kevin Pangos hit four 3-pointers and combined with Przemek Karnowski for more than half of Gonzaga's entire point total in last week's win over Cal Poly. Both finished with 16 points, which was more than double what any other player for the Bulldogs had, as the team shot 45.7 percent from the field, but was outscored in the paint (32-26). Fortunately, the Mustangs were successful on fewer than 40 percent of their total shots, and they were outscored at the foul line, 16-5.
Gonzaga boasts five double-digit scorers on the season, led by Kyle Wiltjer and his 16.8 ppg. The Bulldogs net 83.7 ppg, which ranked as the 10th-best scoring average in the country coming into the week, while their average yield of 60 ppg tied for 55th. The Zags are hitting an eye-popping 53.6 percent of their field goal attempts, which was second-best in the nation, while its .396 3-point FG percentage ranked 33rd. Foes are shooting just 38.6 percent from the floor, which includes a 31.4 percent showing from beyond the arc, and the Bulldogs are +10.8 in rebounding margin (eighth-best nationally) and +2.3 in turnover differential.
BYU too has enjoyed incredible offensive success this season, the team ranking first in the country with a scoring average of 88 ppg. The Cougars are shooting 47.1 percent from the field, knocking down 39.3 percent of their long-range launches, and converting 75.7 percent of their free throws. They also own favorable margins in both rebounding (+6.2) and turnovers (+2.4). BYU does however, permit an average of 74.2 ppg. Tyler Haws entered the week ranked second in the country in scoring, but he has slipped a few notches and now nets 22.3 ppg. Three others are averaging double figures in the scoring column for the Cougars as well.
Haws (2-of-9, four points) had an off night in the recent clash with UMass, but his teammates picked him up as BYU won its 10th game of the season. Anson Winder came off the bench to post a career-high 25 points, and Kyle Collinsworth tacked on 18 to go with a season-high 15 rebounds. Overall, the Cougars shot just 39 percent from the field, missing 16 of their 21 3-point tries along the way. Fortunately, a 26-of-32 performance at the charity stripe helped alleviate some of the pressure as the Minutemen converted 45.8 percent of their total shots.