GAME NOTES: The 25th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs can clinch the West Coast Conference regular-season title, as they take on the BYU Cougars in a league matchup at the Marriott Center on Thursday evening.
Mark Few's Bulldogs have won two straight and nine of their last 10 games to force their way back into the Top 25. Gonzaga's lone loss over that stretch came out of conference in a showdown with Memphis on the road (60-54). Most recently, the Bulldogs made light work of Loyola Marymount last weekend in Spokane to move to 23-4 overall and 13-1 in-conference.
Dave Rose's Cougars are in second place in the conference standings, but it is a distant second at 10-5. BYU has won five of its last six games to improve to 18-10 overall, including last weekend's 60-57 road win at Saint Mary's.
Being up four games in the league with four to play, Gonzaga can claim the WCC regular-season crown outright with a win here. The Bulldogs are 5-2 all-time against BYU and that includes an 84-69 win on Jan. 25 in Spokane.
Sam Dower dominated play down low, recording a double-double with game-highs of 25 points and 15 rebounds in Gonzaga's 19-point win over Loyola Marymount, which clinched no worse than a tie for the WCC crown. The Bulldogs also received sizable contributions from Kevin Pangos (17 pts), Gary Bell Jr. (14 pts) and Przemek Karnowski (11 pts) in the victory. Gonzaga held a huge edge in rebounding over the Lions (40-25) and was an efficient 20-of-25 from the free-throw line in the game.
A potent offensive team, Gonzaga comes into this contest averaging 78.4 ppg and is ranked fourth in the county in field-goal percentage at a cool .500, including .404 from behind the arc. Pangos leads a quartet of double-figure scorers at 15.2 ppg, fueled by his 71-of-170 showing from behind the arc. Dower ranks second on the team in both scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg). He is joined in the frontcourt by Karnowski (10.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), while Bell (11.5 ppg) provides depth along the perimeter.
BYU would have no problem turning this game into a shootout, as the team is more that capable of winning that way. The Cougars rank third in the nation in scoring at a hefty 85.5 ppg, doing so on a healthy .469 shooting. It helps to get over a quarter of that scoring from one player. Junior guard Tyler Haws has been unstoppable this season and has played at an All-American level, leading the conference and ranking fourth in the nation in scoring at an eye- popping 24.1 ppg. The team has a pair of capable facilitators behind Haws in guards Kyle Collinsworth (14.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.8 apg) and Matt Carlino (13.5 ppg, 4.6 apg). Freshman forward Eric Mika (12.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) provides balance up front.
The Cougars trailed by 14 points against Saint Mary's but rallied in the second half to earn the three-point win. Haws led all scorers in the victory with 18 points. Collinsworth added 14 point to the cause for BYU, which shot 50 percent from the floor in the game, despite an ugly 1-of-8 from behind the arc.
Defense has not been a strength of the Cougars this season and despite having a big homecourt advantage, stopping Gonzaga from winning yet another conference crown probably isn't in the cards.
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