(The Sports Network)
Third-round play in the Southeast Region continues Saturday evening from the Pepsi Center as the 11th-seed Gonzaga Bulldogs square off against the third-seeded Cougars of BYU.
Jimmer Fredette, the MWC Player of the Year and the nation's leading scorer, poured in 32 points to stoke BYU's 74-66 victory over 14th-seeded Wofford in Thursday's second-round game. It was the second year in a row that the Cougars managed to advance past the opening round after going without a tournament win for 17 years. Fredette added seven assists and four rebounds, and the Cougars survived his making just one field goal over the final 11 minutes of the game. BYU also got key contributions from Logan Magnusson, Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo, who all chipped in 10 points in the victory. The Cougars also set a school record with their 31st victory, having just four losses on the year. Despite that fact, the Cougars had to share the Mountain West's regular-season title with San Diego State and lost to the Aztecs (32-2) in the MWC Tournament as the top seed. BYU is making its 25th appearance overall and fifth straight in the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars' track record hasn't always necessarily translated into success, though, with their 99-92 win against Florida last year the club's first since 1993.
Gonzaga logged a convincing 86-71 win against sixth-seeded St. John's in the second round, led by Marquise Carter's career-high 24 points and an overwhelming 43-20 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs shot 54.0 percent from the field and made 9-of-15 attempts from behind the arc, with Steven Gray and Elias Harris adding 16 and 15 points, respectively, to the Zags' 10th straight win. Gonzaga claimed a 13th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth in 2011 after defeating Saint Mary's for the West Coast Conference tourney crown as a two seed. However, the Bulldogs shared the regular-season title with the Gaels to secure a record-11th consecutive WCC championship, the longest active streak of its kind in the nation and the second-best streak all-time among the Division I ranks. It's the Zags' 14th overall appearance in the Big Dance where they've made a name for themselves in just a short time since their initial outing in 1999. Gonzaga has amassed a 16-13 record in that time, one Elite Eight appearance (1999) and five trips to the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga has now won its opening-round matchup in 10-of-13 NCAA Tournament trips.
Saturday's matchup will be the first-ever meeting between Gonzaga and BYU.
The Bulldogs get contributions from a number of different sources starting with Gray, who tops the roster at 13.8 points per game, leads in assists with 3.9 per game and has dropped a team-high 69 three-pointers while shooting 37.1 percent from beyond. Robert Sacre patrols the paint and provides 12.4 points per game to go with a team-leading 6.3 rebounds and 62 blocks. Harris gives Gonzaga three double-figure scoring threats with a solid 12.2-ppg average while standing second to Sacre at 5.9 boards per contest. The Zags hold a healthy plus-6.4 margin on the glass, ranking 18th in the country, and also slide in as the nation's 18th-ranked scoring offense at 77.0 ppg. The defense is another strong point, having led the WCC in holding clubs to 65.2 ppg, while gaining national attention in both field-goal percentage (48.0) and free-throw percentage (76.0) where they stand eighth and 14th, respectively. Also in the Zags' favor is a defensive field-goal percentage that holds teams to 40.0 percent shooting, a total that stands 28th in the country.
Fredette has helped the Cougars establish themselves as one of the top programs in the country this year, averaging 28.6 points per game, 4.3 assists and 1.3 steals. His assists stand third in the MWC, while leading the conference in free-throw percentage (88.9) and ranking third in the nation with 114 three-pointers on 39.9 percent shooting, also good for fifth in conference. Overall, the 6-2 senior shoots 45.4 percent from the floor. His performance in the MWC Tournament only solidified his chances of being named the National Player of the Year, averaging a tournament-record 35.3 points on his way to tournament MVP. He set BYU and MWC records with a 52-point performance against New Mexico in the semifinals. Backcourt mate Jackson Emery, the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, helps to carry the load by putting up 12.5 ppg, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and a conference-high 2.7 steals per contest. Emery's 96 steals this year set a single-season school record and allowed him to become the program's all-time leader in the department. The fellow senior added 86 three-pointers on 35.8 percent shooting. The Cougars shoot a collective 36.0 percent from three-point range. Hartsock checks in with an 8.5-point, 6.0-rebound average. He shoots 49.4 percent from the field. BYU's overall offense ranks eighth in the nation in putting up 81.4 ppg. The Cougars' scoring margin stands fifth in the country (plus-13.9) with a defense that holds opponents to 67.5 ppg. BYU could stand to improve a bit on a 45.1 shooting percentage but helps its cause with the nation's 13th-ranked free-throw percentage (76.1).
BYU is eventually going to feel the loss of suspended sophomore forward Brandon Davies, who was the Cougars' top inside player leading the club in rebounding (6.2 rpg) and field-goal percentage (52.5). Saturday's matchup with Gonzaga just may be that time when the Cougars come up short against a team that plays tough in the paint and rebounds with the best in the country.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Gonzaga 76, BYU 71