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FRANCHUK: Gonzaga looks for Memphis re-do, while Cougars seek home-court urgency

2014-02-20T10:15:00Z 2014-03-20T21:00:02Z FRANCHUK: Gonzaga looks for Memphis re-do, while Cougars seek home-court urgencyJason Franchuk - Daily Herald Daily Herald
February 20, 2014 10:15 am  • 

Nearly two weeks ago, Gonzaga stepped out of conference play for a moment and made the lengthy trip to nationally ranked Memphis.

The Bulldogs would like to think the gut-punch defeat made them tougher, taught them some lessons. Like getting ready for a 9 p.m. tipoff at the Marriott Center.

The trip to face the Tigers was also in a larger home arena (compared to most West Coast Conference venues) with a packed house and high stakes.

"That was a big hostile crowd," GU assistant coach Tommy Lloyd told the Daily Herald late Wednesday night. "A lot of energy. We like putting our team in those situations. We expect BYU will be a lot like that game."

Gonzaga wound up losing at Memphis, going cold and losing a 12-point lead with about 11 minutes left. Consider this a re-do of sorts to pad their NCAA Tournament portfolio.

But right now, it would not seem like their stakes are not quite as high as BYU's.

Could that be a blessing, as they presumably can play loose and free — which is what the Cougars talk about wanting to do?

Or will the Cougars' urgency run them out of Provo for the second time in three seasons?

"The number-one thing is, we want to win the league championship outright," Lloyd said when asked about motivation for a 23-4 team, as GU sports a 3 1/2-game lead on second-place BYU in the closing stretch of the season. "There's still a way someone can tie us."

That would take a borderline miracle. A win tonight assures GU of an outright title. Even missing tonight, it's unlikely the 13-1 (in league play) Zags fail on trips to San Diego, Pacific and Saint Mary's to wrap up the regular season.

Just BYU getting the job done is a heavy task. The Cougars are 1-5 against GU, losing the last five tries after starting with a home win fueled by a first half in 2012 that coach Mark Few said "frazzled" his team beyond his imagination.

The buzzwords from BYU leading up to this one were obvious, especially after a 15-point setback last month in Spokane, Wash. 

Talk of being "locked in" on defense. Tyler Haws used that Dave Rose phrase three times in five minutes of Wednesday afternoon interviews.

Rose and players spoke of needing to control the 3-point line, where Gonzaga has a strong ability to play inside-outside. There are rotations GU musters where all five players can shoot from the arc. Their drive-and-dish style is what's flustered the Cougars on several occasions this year.

As Haws pointed out, GU has a couple of huge post-playing lefties (Sam Dower, Przemek Karnowski) who can create for themselves or use screens to set up crafty teammates like guard Kevin Pangos from the perimeter. The BYU post players (Eric Mika, Nate Austin and Luke Worthington, who will likely be available despite a shoulder sprain suffered last weekend) will have to worry about controlling inside scoring, but also "showing" themselves at Gonzaga 3-point threats a little longer.

Kyle Collinsworth said it best: "When we don't let teams shoot threes, we win. It's that simple. That's huge for us. And Gonzaga has a lot of shooters."

Defense is where it's at, just like last Saturday's win against Saint Mary's.

"We had everyone trying to get a hand on the ball, get a loose ball; get a steal. We've got to bring that mentality again," Haws said.

The mental game may be BYU's biggest chess match tonight, with a big crowd and a lot on the line for the 18-10 Cougars.

They may not look at daily updated NCAA Tournament brackets online, but they understand the stakes. They're the same as they were going to Saint Mary's. The advantage, of course, is being at home — where BYU has won all seven league games and only lost to still-ranked Iowa State.

"I like the resiliency of our team. I like the resolve of our group," Rose said. "There are times I would like us to execute a whole lot better. Hopefully what we get (Thursday) is a team that has got real urgency and real energy, and the execution is really good."

Rose hasn't ruled out a starting lineup change. Perhaps Anson Winder for his defensive prowess (it helped trip up Gonzaga a couple of years ago) or somehow weaving Matt Carlino into the starting five again alongside Collinsworth.

"It's a possibility. The key for us is, I want our guys playing as loose and aggressive and on attack as possible. Sometimes when we get into early foul trouble — and they guys end up not fouling out, they make it to the end of the game — but their aggression level...the attack you see in them: It's not as aggressive as you'd really like it to be," Rose said.

 BYU (18-10, 10-5) vs. No. 25 Gonzaga (23-4, 13-1)

9 p.m., Marriott Center

Radio: KSL 1160 AM (102.7 FM)

TV: ESPN2

Tip-ins: The tipoff was changed recently to 9 p.m., and also changed TV stations, to accommodate ESPN airing a re-do with North Carolina and Duke that was recently canceled because of weather. ...GU won the first meeting, 84-69, on Jan. 25 after leading by only 2 at halftime. ...Kevin Pangos leads the Bulldogs in scoring (15.4). He hit 9-of-14 shots (6-for-10 from 3-point range) for 24 points against BYU the first time.

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-- Jason Franchuk covers primarily BYU football and basketball for the Daily Herald. You can connect with him by email at jfranchuk@heraldextra.com or by following him on Twitter at

Read more from  Jason Franchuk here.

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