The anticipated matchup between the BYU Cougars and Gonzaga Bulldogs will happen a few weeks earlier than expected.
TV schedule: Thursday, January 7, 8:30 pm ET. ESPN
Arena: McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington
As is all of the conferences this season, the West Coast Conference has been dealing with covid issues. Programs such as San Diego, Pepperdine, Pacific, and Santa Clara haven’t been able to play WCC games, which has greatly affected the BYU Cougars (9-2, 0-0). Their first three WCC games were canceled and they weren’t going to play again this week. But thanks to some rescheduling, BYU does now have an opponent for Thursday… in the No. 1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Gonzaga (10-0, 1-0) was able to win its first conference game last Saturday, beating San Francisco at home, 85-62. Corey Kispert led all scorers with 26 points, while Drew Timme had a double-double (10 points and 11 rebounds). Joel Ayayi, the reigning WCC Player of the Week, had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The Bulldogs have been highly impressive in the WCC and at home overall. But the biggest thorn to their side recently has been the Cougars, the last team to beat Gonzaga. It was at home last season in Senior Night, with Yoeli Childs going for 28 points and 10 rebounds to lead BYU to a 91-78 victory. It’s important to note that just 14 points of production are back for the Cougars, as they have a new-looked team heading into this game.
One of the returning players is Alex Barcello, who leads the team with 16.9 ppg and 4.8 apg. He’s also one of the best shooters in the country, making a lethal 63% of his three-point attempts. If the Cougars have any chance of pulling off the upset, they’ll need both him and grad transfer Brandon Averette to combine for at least 25-30+ points, while still finding another 50 points from the rest of the roster.
On the defensive end, Purdue grad transfer Matt Haarms will need to have a major impact inside. The 7’3 big man for Purdue will play both frontcourt positions and will have to deal with both Timme and Kispert on Gonzaga’s side. If he can be effective, he’ll limit the Bulldogs’ scoring potential.
In the end, it’s just hard to see BYU having enough offense to keep up with Gonzaga. And with there being plenty of potential mismatches for the favorites to expose, look for them to run away with it in the second half.
Prediction: Gonzaga 88 – BYU 64