No. 1 Gonzaga, BYU get together after WCC schedule shuffle

·3 min read

BYU was the last team to defeat Gonzaga, and the Cougars get an unexpected chance to do it again Thursday night when they visit the top-ranked Bulldogs in West Coast Conference play at Spokane, Wash.

BYU (9-2, 0-0 WCC) recorded a 91-78 victory on Feb. 22, 2020 when it had homecourt advantage and ample time to prepare for the matchup. That's not the case this time.

The programs finalized this matchup just more than 50 hours before tipoff due to COVID-19 protocol developments in the WCC.

Santa Clara on Tuesday pulled out of its Thursday game at Gonzaga due to COVID-19 issues within the program. Meanwhile, BYU's Thursday home game against Pacific was postponed Monday due to COVID-19 issues in the Tigers' program.

The postponement was the third in a row for the Cougars due to other WCC program's COVID-19 troubles. Since BYU hadn't played since beating Weber State on Dec. 23, WCC officials did some shuffling and moved up the scheduled Feb. 6 matchup with the Zags to Thursday.

The Cougars have won four straight games but will hope they can quickly shake off the rust against the well-oiled Bulldogs, who have won 44 consecutive home games.

Gonzaga (10-0, 1-0) has won its past six games by an average of 29.3 points. The Bulldogs opened WCC play last Saturday with an 85-62 home win over San Francisco.

Corey Kispert scored 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and Joel Ayayi recorded 18 points and 10 rebounds for his third straight double-double.

Kispert averages a team-best 21.6 points and is shooting a blistering 63.4 percent from the field. He has made 31 of 61 3-point attempts -- a superb 50.8 percent.

"What he's done is he's developed way more confidence," Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. "He's comfortable putting the ball on the deck and getting downhill and playing off that athleticism. He's not just going in, diving into somebody looking for a foul. He's looking maybe to get an and-one.

"From a coaching standpoint, it just warms your heart because nobody works harder and cares more. Early in his career, he almost cared too much and he put a lot of pressure on himself. Now he has the confidence, and he's focused but also a little more relaxed and not so uptight about missing shots."

Kispert is receiving help from Gonzaga's three other double-digit scorers.

Drew Timme averages 18.4 points, Jalen Suggs contributes 13.9 points while Ayayi chips in 12.2 points and a team-best 8.0 rebounds.

BYU has notched impressive double-digit victories over Utah and then-No. 18 San Diego State during its four-game winning streak.

Alex Barcello is averaging a team-best 16.9 points and is shooting in a manner that Kispert would appreciate -- 60.9 percent from the field and a lava-hot 63 percent from 3-point range.

Purdue transfer Matt Haarms (11.0) and Brandon Averette (10.8) also average in double digits. Haarms has recorded a team-leading 18 blocks.

Haarms also appreciates the intensity Kolby Lee (eight starts) brings to the team despite modest averages of 5.0 points and 2.5 rebounds.

"Nobody on this team really plays outside of himself," Haarms told the Deseret News. "Kolby's an example of that. He knows what he's good at, he knows his skills and he just executes that perfectly. On defense, you can always count on him. I'm really happy with the way he's playing."

Gonzaga leads the series 18-7.

--Field Level Media