Looking back on the history of BYU vs. Gonzaga
When BYU men’s basketball joined the West Coast Conference in 2011, the Cougars knew Gonzaga was going to be their biggest fight every season. Eleven years later it has proven to be true.
BYU is 7-21 against Gonzaga all-time and while some may not consider it a rivalry, it’s still a “mark your calendars” caliber game. The game this Thursday in Spokane is no different.
The last time BYU and Gonzaga met was March 2021 in the WCC title game in Las Vegas. BYU had a 12-point lead at the half, but Gonzaga came out hot after halftime making seven threes to clinch the win, 88-78.
Trevin Knell was BYU’s weapon off the bench and led all scorers with 20 points, including 15 from three. Alex Barcello had 15 points, Matt Haarms fought inside for 13 points and Gideon George and Brandon Averette both had 11 points.
BYU’s most recent win against Gonzaga was in February 2020 when the Cougars beat the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs 91-78. It was Mark Pope’s first season as head coach and the win broke a six-game losing streak for BYU.
Just like every other game in the series, BYU and Gonzaga fought back and forth in the 2020 matchup in the Marriott Center. The Bulldogs held a small lead for most of the first 14 minutes, then Zac Seljaas drained a three and the Cougars ran with a lead the rest of the game.
In the second half, BYU took a 14-point lead, but Gonzaga rallied together to mount a comeback and came within two points before BYU dug in to close the game.
Yoeli Childs ended the game 28 points and 10 rebounds, Jake Toolson had 17 points and TJ Haws put up 16 points and eight assists.
Gonzaga built a strong men’s basketball program, earning eight WCC titles in the last nine years and playing for the national championship in 2021 and 2017, with 23 appearances in the tournament all-time.
“Gonzaga’s gone a long way to validating this conference,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said on Tuesday, “It’s a unique gift for us that nobody else in the country gets really. In the last couple of years, we’ve played them more than anybody else. You always want to go play the best, and they are the very best.”
BYU and Gonzaga will face off again in Spokane, Washington tomorrow for the first time since the 2020 WCC title game, with the Cougars getting a chance to knock off the No. 2 team in the nation on the road.
“It’s every team in college basketball that’s chasing Gonzaga,” Pope said. “Kentucky is chasing Gonzaga. North Carolina is chasing Gonzaga. Duke is chasing Gonzaga. Everybody’s chasing Gonzaga, so the fact that they’re right here in our league is pretty awesome”
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said this week that WCC play was going to be a fight. Gonzaga forward Anton Watson added, “Conference is not going to be easy, it’s not going to be a cakewalk.”
The Bulldogs own a three-game winning streak over the Cougars, who are led by veteran players like Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas looking to snap the streak.
“This is what me and Alex came back for, these kinds of games,” Lucas said. “Our goal is to go in and snag one from them.”
BYU sits at No. 30 in the NET rankings while Gonzaga is No. 5. The Cougars own a couple of great wins against Oregon and Utah, but they’ve also taken a couple of hard losses.
Gonzaga is second nationally in offensive efficiency and 15th in defense, whereas BYU is 46th in offense and 16th in defensive efficiency.
Beating Gonzaga could significantly improve the Cougars’ NET ranking and get them a higher seed going into the postseason.
“You can try your best to mimic their pace and their length and athleticism and skill, but you just can’t,” Pope said of Gonzaga. “The first time you’re going to see it is Thursday night at 8 p.m. (Pacific) when the ball tips.”