Thursday night in Spokane, Brigham Young plays at Gonzaga in the most important game of the final weekend of basketball play in the West Coast Conference. It has all sorts of implications for both clubs, among them a chance to tie or win the WCC regular-season title outright, as well as establishing seeds for the league tournament — which is a big deal.
Beyond that, there are even NCAA-tournament bubble issues. Gonzaga is virtually in, but BYU could still be vulnerable if it loses this one and then stumbles early in the tournament. Not likely, but still not out of the question.
We’ll get to some of those details in a minute. For Gonzaga, it’s a chance to wash away some of the bitter taste left by a 66-65 loss at San Francisco Saturday that could deny it a 12th straight league regular-season title.
I can’t remember a Gonzaga game that left me more puzzled. The Zags fumbled their way into 22 turnovers, but never seemed to try to attack the USF traps and pressing. When Gonzaga got the ball to mid-court (which wasn’t a given, by any means), it seemed to stop and exhale.
After it allowed the winning basket with 3.3 seconds remaining, Gonzaga chose to have 5-11 (generously) David Stockton inbound the ball at the far end. Stockton was able to run the baseline, but I’ve never seen a player that small asked to inbound the ball in a must-score situation. Yes, Stockton is a good passer, but that’s not a spot where it tends to be reflected.
Stockton got the ball to forward Elias Harris at about the three-point arc at the opposite end. He caught it just about flat-footed and had to wheel, handle it upcourt and then cast up about a 32-footer that never had a chance. Generally, the whole play was a mess.
Gonzaga is now 21-5 and tied with BYU (23-6) for second in the WCC at 11-3. Saint Mary’s has the top spot at 23-5 and 12-2. The Gaels visit Portland Thursday night and have to meet USF on the road Saturday night, and that doesn’t figure to be easy. BYU finishes with Portland at home, which does. Gonzaga ends at San Diego Saturday afternoon at 4.
The top two seeds draw double byes, meaning they don’t have to play until the WCC semifinals. Seeds three and four get one bye, but would have to win three games to capture the tournament title.
Two Gonzaga wins would mean no worse than second place and a No. 2 seed. If Gonzaga beats BYU but loses Saturday and ties with the Cougars for second, the Zags would hold the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed, having a win over Saint Mary’s that BYU doesn’t have.
Two wins by Saint Mary’s means the Gaels wrest the regular-season title from Gonzaga, something that has been owned (or co-owned) by the Zags since 2001.