Had BYU not beaten Gonzaga on Thursday night, its only chance to land an NCAA bid may have been winning the West Coast Conference tournament next month.
Instead the Cougars managed to snap a rare two-game home losing streak, pick up their biggest win of the season and resuscitate their fading at-large hopes all in one night.
An 83-73 victory over Gonzaga served notice that the intimidation factor of the Marriott Center hasn't vanished despite uncharacteristic BYU losses there to Saint Mary's and LMU in the past two weeks. The Cougars won by attacking the Zags off the dribble and by relying on the interior and mid-range game of big men Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock, who combined for 39 points and 19 rebounds.
At 19-6 overall and 7-3 in its inaugural WCC season, BYU is still tied for third place with LMU in league play and has ample work left to do to feel confident about a sixth straight season ending with an NCAA bid. Nonetheless, the Cougars have to feel better about their chances with a top 40 RPI and a win over Gonzaga to go with previous victories over WAC-leading Nevada, Pac-12 contender Oregon and Big Sky-leading Weber State.
In addition to reviving BYU's season, Thursday night's game also brought clarity to the WCC title race.
Gonzaga's streak of earning at least a share of the WCC title the past 11 seasons is in grave jeopardy with just a month to go in the regular season. Even if the Zags (17-4, 7-2) beat first-place Saint Mary's (22-2, 11-0) in Spokane on Feb. 9, they'll still need to win out and have either Santa Clara, LMU, Portland or San Francisco upset the Gaels just to be co-league champions.
BYU's league title chances all but disappeared when it dropped a pair of home games in league, but the Cougars at least have life in the at-large hunt. The key to finishing the season strong and securing a bid may be emerging from a team-wide perimeter shooting slump that has seemingly come out of nowhere.
In its past five games, BYU is a mere 14 of 85 from three-point range, including 3-for-12 against Gonzaga.
That was good enough to beat a Zags team that shot 3-for-19 itself behind the arc. It likely won't be enough to help the Cougars close as strong as they need to this month.