Cougars face daunting challenge at Gonzaga
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Cougars face daunting challenge at Gonzaga

The Cougars desperately need a marquee win, and beating No. 10 Gonzaga Thursday night would certainly qualify, but the Cougars will be hard-pressed to beat the Bulldogs on the road. They expect Gonzaga to be motivated after losing a heartbreaker at the buzzer last week, something the Cougars can definitely relate to.

Gonzaga sits at 17-2 and is undefeated in WCC play. The Bulldogs have played an impressive schedule and have shown they are a force to be reckoned with, even going a perfect 5-0 against Big 12 teams. Thursday's game could very well be BYU's toughest test to date.

"I think we treat it just like any other game," said Tyler Haws. "Our preparation's the same. Our coaches are putting together a really good game plan. We're gonna be ready to play for sure."

"Every team in this country can get beat," said Brock Zylstra. "They're a great team, they've got great players, they have some amazing bigs and their guards and phenomenal … I mean, everybody can get beat, but we're gonna have to play good. We have to give everything we have when we get up there."

Last week the Cougars suffered a tough defeat when Saint Mary's sank a buzzer-beater three to win by one point. They bounced back on Saturday by defeating San Diego. Now it's the Bulldogs' turn to bounce back after losing a game that they thought they had won, after losing at No. 13 Butler last Saturday. Down one point, Butler stole an inbounds pass with 3.5 seconds left and hit a shot at the buzzer to win.

"We know exactly what it feels like," said Haws. "They're gonna come out ready to go and probably have a little bit of fire under them, but we're ready for that and we're excited."

Coach Rose said he expects Gonzaga to play with a real sense of urgency.

"We addressed this the other night, that teams that don't lose much, when they do get beat, it really stings," said Rose.

As for what has made the biggest difference in Gonzaga's increased level of play this year, Zylstra said it is junior forward Kelly Olynyk. After averaging 5.8 points per game off the bench two years ago when the two teams met in the NCAA Tournament, he redshirted the following year and is now averaging a team-high 18 points per game.

"He's a spacing big man that can shoot the ball, but he can also get down and he's rugged and can score near the hoop," said Zylstra.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga is getting 14.9 ppg from senior forward Elias Harris and 12.1 ppg from sophomore point guard Kevin Pangos.

So what's it going to take to beat Gonzaga?

"I think that we're gonna have to give an extreme effort," said Rose. "We'll have to play really hard, but we'll have to play well. I think that their size is an issue, their depth's an issue. I think they've got really good perimeter players that can score, so this is a really good basketball team. I think our guys are excited to play."

Zylstra echoed Rose's point about playing both hard and well.

"I think the big thing we've been focusing on recently is rebounding," said Zylstra. "I think offensively and defensively … the games that we have lost, we haven't done a very good job on the boards. And then just locking in and giving everything we have [is necessary]. This is one of those games we have to play hard, but not only play hard, but you have to play well. You have to have a decent game. You can't go in there, play hard, and win; you have to have a decent game."

Haws also chipped in his thoughts on what BYU needs to do Thursday night in order to win.

"I think playing at our pace and staying on attack for 40 minutes," he said. "I think there's been times this year when everyone's playing together and playing well, and I feel like at those times we can beat anyone, and so hopefully we can put together a good 40 minutes."

Last year the Cougars lost 74-63 at Gonzaga after shooting just 30.8 percent from the field and 6-of-28 from outside.

"Just the confidence at that point of the team, I don't think it was the highest as far as shooting, but now we feel good," said Zylstra. "A lot of our players are shooting the ball real well, and so we're looking forward to going in and shooting and doing better shooting-percentage-wise up there."

Zylstra said the Cougars need to get a big win under their belts after failing to do so in past games this season. But, it will be a daunting challenge to win at The Kennel, where the Bulldogs enjoy a strong home court advantage.

"You look forward to playing in places like that because of the memories you have with the crowd and how loud it is in there," said Zylstra.