BYU Basketball: 3 Keys to a Cougars Road Win Against Gonzaga
After weathering the best shots that the Bay Area had to offer last week on the road against San Francisco (85-84 win) and Santa Clara (82-67 win), Dave Rose and the BYU Cougars finish their regular season road schedule in "The Kennel" against the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Thursday night, at 11pm Eastern on ESPN2.
The 'Zags will be looking for revenge against a Cougar team that has beaten them twice in the past 11 months. Does Dave Rose have Mark Few's number, or have the Cougars been the beneficiary of catching a prominent basketball program on a couple of "off" days?
Either way, a double-bye and potentially a regular season conference championship will be on the line in the latest installment of the new rivalry between these Cats and the Dogs.
So, what do the Cougars need to do to continue their winning ways against the 'Zags?
Control the Tempo
In both BYU victories, the Cougars have successfully jumped out to early leads against Gonzaga by playing aggressive defense and creating easy scoring opportunities in transition, as a result of Bulldog turnovers.
Earlier this month in Provo, BYU was able to force a total of 19 Gonzaga turnovers, which led to 22 Cougar points—including 18 points in the first half alone. BYU's defensive intensity was also evidenced by BYU's then season-high 14 steals, 12 of which occurred in the first half.
Another key to getting an early lead is the fact that BYU is 0-5 this year when trailing at the half.
A huge key to Thursday's game is whether BYU will be able to take its defensive intensity into a hostile environment, on Gonzaga's home court, from the opening tip.
BYU plays at its best when they push the ball up the court and get quick, easy buckets. BYU currently ranks fifth in the country in assists per game (17.8 apg), and the team's ability to play at a quick tempo is a significant factor in that ranking.
BYU will need to control the tempo of the game in order for the Cougars to be successful against Gonzaga for the third consecutive game.
Win from Downtown
BYU's perimeter defense has been its Achilles' heel this season, as the Cougars have allowed an average of 9.5 made three-pointers in their six losses.
However, BYU has been successful in keeping Gonzaga from finding a rhythm from beyond the arc, as they have held Gonzaga to 2-9 (22.2%) and 3-19 (15.8%) three-point shooting during their last two meetings.
Meanwhile, BYU has been lethal from three-point range, averaging 8.5 three-pointers made—including a 14-28 performance in last year's NCAA tournament, led by Jimmer Fredette's 7-12 shooting.
Although the Cougars will not have the services of last year's Player of the Year against Gonzaga this time around, whichever team wins the battle from three-point range will likely find itself on the winning side.
Maintain a Balanced Scoring Attack
BYU is 12-1 when the Cougars have at least four different players in double figures, with the only loss coming in a close contest to the nationally-ranked Baylor Bears.
Last March, Fredette led the scoring onslaught with 34 points, followed by Jackson Emery (16), Noah Hartsock (13) and Stephen Rogers (10), as the Cougars cruised to a 22-point victory.
On February 2 in Provo, Hartsock led the Cougars with 24 points, while Matt Carlino (18), Brandon Davies (15) and Anson Winder (10) followed, providing multiple scoring options for the 'Zags to defend.
The Cougars will need to have four or more scorers reach double figures if they are going to come home from Spokane with a victory.