A season-high 10-game winning streak has propelled Gonzaga to its highest ranking in school history. Two more victories and the second-ranked Bulldogs might find themselves at the pinnacle of the AP poll.
Looking to remain undefeated in the West Coast Conference, the visiting Bulldogs can clinch the league title outright with a fourth straight victory over BYU on Thursday night.
Gonzaga (27-2, 14-0) has won 10 straight by an average of 22.7 points since a last-second 64-63 loss at then-No. 13 Butler on Jan. 19. The Bulldogs already set a school record for regular-season victories and are two shy of matching their mark for overall wins in a season.
"I think it's the best season we've had since I've been here," senior forward Elias Harris told Gonzaga's official website. "Everything is clicking and the team chemistry is tremendous. The way we play together just works out perfectly, and all of that together has led to such an amazing season so far."
If the Bulldogs can avenge last season's 83-73 road loss to BYU (20-9, 9-5) and beat Portland at home Saturday, they would finish undefeated in the league for the first time since 2008-09 and possibly move to the top of the poll after current No. 1 Indiana lost 77-73 at Minnesota on Tuesday.
While the Bulldogs are grateful for the national recognition, they understand they're susceptible to slipping up like the nation's other top teams have done frequently this season. After what happened last season in Provo, they won't take anything for granted Thursday.
"It can change in a flash in case we lose a game," said sophomore guard Kevin Pangos, who scored a team-high 18 points in Saturday's 81-50 rout of San Diego. "It makes us aware it can happen to us at any time."
Having already secured at least a share of the WCC title after Saint Mary's ended their 11-year run last season, the Bulldogs may now have their eye on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"We are always striving for more," said Pangos, who is averaging 14.0 points and shooting 45.5 percent (15 of 33) from 3-point range in the last six games. "We are never really satisfied with what we've got."
Gonzaga has allowed an average of 54.5 points on 35.2 percent shooting during its current winning streak, which began with an 83-63 home win over BYU on Jan. 24.
"Our defensive effort has been outstanding," coach Mark Few said.
In the first meeting, the Cougars had no answer for national player of the year candidate Kelly Olynyk, who was 9 of 9 from the field and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line to record 26 points along with nine rebounds and five assists. Harris added 25 points and 10 boards and Pangos went 4 of 8 from beyond the arc as the Bulldogs shot 56.9 percent from the field.
Gonzaga limited WCC scoring leader Tyler Haws (20.9 points per game) to one point on 0-of-9 shooting.
"They sped (Haws) up and were really physical with him," BYU coach Dave Rose said after that game. "It was tough to get the ball in spots where he was comfortable. Every catch he made, it seemed to be in a spot where it was a little out of the rhythm that he likes to be in."
The Bulldogs might have a more difficult time containing Haws in Provo, where he has averaged 22.1 points and shot 49.3 percent while the Cougars have gone 13-2.
He was held to 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting in BYU's 64-57 loss at Saint Mary's last Thursday.
- Sports & Recreation