PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – It is always the toughest test of the year.
BYU (14-3, 2-0 WCC) renews its rivalry with Gonzaga (12-2, 1-0 WCC) Thursday night in Spokane. The Bulldogs, coming off an appearance in the National Championship Game last season, are ranked #2 in the nation.
So once again, every team in the West Coast Conference is chasing the Bulldogs this season.
“It’s not just us,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “It’s every team in college basketball that is chasing Gonzaga. Kentucky is chasing Gonzaga, North Carolina is chasing Gonzaga, Duke is chasing Gonzaga. Usually they’re the top team in the country, and they might be again this year.”
“They’re either the best team in the country or top five every single year,” said BYU guard Trevin Knell. “We feel like as a team we are special this year. We’re doing something magical, and it’s going to be a dogfight on Thursday.”
Incredibly, Gonzaga has lost just five games total in the last 2 1/2 seasons. One of those losses was to BYU two years ago in Provo. After Gonzaga blew out out the Cougars in two regular season games last season, BYU was up double digits in the WCC Tournament championship game before losing, 88-78.
“We were up by  points going into halftime, and we ended up losing in the last four minutes of the game,” Knell said. “We feel we have the exact same team this year, and I feel like a lot of people kind of underestimate us.”
Led by Drew Timme and the #1 recruit in the nation, Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga has a ton of size and they still like to play extremely fast. Gonzaga just put up 117 points against Pepperdine in its last game. Gonzaga is second in the nation in scoring at 87.9 points per game.
So, it will be a tough challenge for the BYU defense, which just held St. Mary’s to a season-low 43 points.
“They’re still terrifying,” Pope said. “They’re still playing ridiculously fast. They’re really, really skilled. They’re incredibly physical and they’re super talented.”
The Kennel is a tough place to play, but BYU has had some success there in the past, winning there as recently as 2017.
“The Kennel is pretty crazy,” Knell said. “They’re there 60 minutes before the game, they’re hounding us and calling us names. But we love it. It’s a great atmosphere.”
BYU will tip off against Gonzaga Thursday night at 8:00 p.m.