BYU to play Gonzaga for first time since 2011 tournament win


The last time the BYU men’s basketball team played Gonzaga, Jimmer Fredette led the Cougars to a resounding blowout win in the second round of the NCAA tournament last March. On Thursday, the Cougars will have to use the strength of their inside game and hope for the return of their perimeter play to pull out a much-needed win.

The Cougars (18-6, 6-3 West Coast Conference) will host a Top-25 team for the second straight game as they take on the No. 24 Bulldogs (17-3, 7-1) at the Marriott Center. BYU will have to win the game to increase the chances of making this year’s tournament.

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BYU Freshman Matt Carlino, 10, drives around Baylor's Qunicy Miller in the Marriott Center.
“Every game is huge from now on,” freshman guard Matt Carlino said. “Every team is a huge team, because we have to beat them all from now on.”

Junior forward Brandon Davies leads the Cougars with 18.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per conference game, while senior forward Noah Hartsock contributes a consistent 17.1 points on 56 percent shooting from the floor. The dominant inside game presents a new challenge for the Bulldogs, as last year they were terrorized by the perimeter performance of Fredette and sharp-shooting from the 3-point line.

“That was a big game last year, and we were fortunate enough to win,” senior guard Charles Abouo said. “They’ll come in here with a lot of energy  and with a chip on their shoulder. They’re a really good team, so we’ll have to respond to that challenge.”

In the last four games, BYU has shot just 15 percent from beyond the arc as opposed to almost a 40 percent average in the 20 games before.

“Right now, we’re not shooting the ball as well as we have in other times during the year,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “What we need to do is get confident, start hitting shots. I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve found ways to win a couple games kind of mired in a really tough offensive slump. We just got to keep pushing forward and getting better every day.”

Carlino took control of the game late in the second half of Saturday’s loss against Saint Mary’s, bringing the Cougars within nine. He averages 10.8 points and 4.2 assists per game.

Gonzaga features three players averaging double figures, two of whom experienced the blowout against the Cougars last year. Junior forward Elias Harris leads the team with 13.7 points and 8 rebounds per game, and senior center Robert Sacre adds 11.6 and 6.7 respectively. The Bulldogs also feature freshman guard Kevin Pangos who scores 13.3 per game, and sophomore guard David Stockton, the son of former Utah Jazz great and Gonzaga alumnus John Stockton.

“The way the game went last time [with us advancing] to the Sweet 16, they’re ready to come out with an edge,” Hartsock said. “This could be a great rivalry that will be able to appear for the next couple of years. Gonzaga’s got some great inside depth and great inside players. They’re a really good team with some great players. This will be a great matchup.”

The game will tip off at 9 p.m. at the Marriott Center, and will also be televised on ESPN2.

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