The basketball fan in me loved watching the product Gonzaga put on the floor Thursday night in Spokane.

I loved how the Bulldogs moved the basketball and seem to find the open man on offense. On defense, Gonzaga is excellent at position defense, at getting in the passing lanes and making an opponent work for everything it gets.

It’s absolutely beautiful.

And, as was clear on the scoreboard in the 86-69 Bulldog win, BYU is not at that level yet.

I got looking at the rosters for both teams and there was quite a bit of turnover on both teams from the big Cougar win over Gonzaga in Provo last February.

Sure, the Bulldogs brought in some high-profile guys, namely freshman guard Jalen Suggs, who is considered one of the top players in the country. BYU had some nice additions but no one who would be put in that category.

But the difference between the two teams in terms of cohesion on the floor was pretty clear on Thursday.

It’s something I’ve always admired about what head coach Mark Few does at Gonzaga.

While the Bulldogs haven’t been able to get over the top and actually win a national title yet (although that might change in a couple of months), it just doesn’t seem to matter who gets plugged in to the system Few has in Spokane.

He has gotten to the point where he gets elite talent and knows how to get the most out of it.

Can BYU get to that point?

Frankly, I don’t know.

The Cougars have a coach who I believe has that potential in Mark Pope — but I don’t know if he will have the patience to stay in a place like Provo like Few has done in Spokane.

Pope certainly has shown some good indicators in his first years at BYU, putting the Cougars in the Final Four discussion last year before the pandemic disaster, then putting together a pretty good team this season.

But BYU isn’t elite right now.

The Cougars still have a long ways to go and maybe they will get there. I’d love to see this squad truly reach its potential.

Gonzaga, however, is elite right now and is ranked No. 1 for a very good reason.

While BYU fans can’t be happy with how the Cougars performed overall, at least they know their team is in good company. Gonzaga handled ranked teams like Kansas, Iowa and Virginia as well.

I think Pope has an advantage as he tries to get the BYU program to elevate its status in the future, since he gets at least two or three chances per year to see the best in the business.

Knowing Pope, he will be breaking down everything he sees Gonzaga doing and trying to both figure out how to combat it and how to implement elements into what the Cougars are doing.

He is still a young coach and his boundless energy and determination won’t let him rest until he finds ways to narrow the gap.

I do believe it is possible.

Even though Gonzaga has the advantage in talent, BYU has a strong basketball tradition and has beaten the Bulldogs as much as anyone has in the last six or seven years.

Maybe we’ll even get to see the Cougars shock the Zags in Provo later in the year. A lot can change in a month or two.

What I really want to see, however, is to see BYU be able to bring in new pieces year-in and year-out and have them mesh into the system as seamlessly as Gonzaga does.

It’s definitely much easier said than done — but I think it is a viable goal for Pope and the Cougars over the next couple of years.

Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

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