It was the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2011, and Gonzaga was set to face BYU in Denver’s Pepsi Center. National superstar Jimmer Fredette was leading the then 31-4 Cougars on a campaign for a spot among the nation’s best collegiate basketball teams deep into March Madness, and GU had just knocked off the No. 6 seed St. John’s; it was going to be a good game.
Gonzaga happened to be the next team on the chopping block for Brigham Young University, however, as the Zags fell 89-67 to end their season. For the Cougars, they would fall to Florida in the Sweet Sixteen and finish with a 32-5 record; but would also graduate the key component to their success—Fredette.
Now, about 10 months later, the two teams are slated for a rematch. It’s up to the fans to determine whether this game has more on the line than last years’ tournament battle, however. The Cougars entered the WCC this school year, and were expected to come in at the top of the league and dominate.
St. Mary’s has been the powerhouse team on the men’s side, destroying BYU twice and taking it to the Bulldogs once. It is now time for the Cougs and Zags to settle who will be the other force in the conference. Currently, the Zags hold an edge over the Cougars in the WCC standings, but when the two teams face off in Provo Thursday night so much more will be on the line.
First, GU will want to redeem themselves from the throttling they took last March. Next, the Zags will want to establish that the West Coast Conference belongs to Gonzaga—no newcomer is going to come into the league and take away the perennial power’s ownership of the conference. Lastly, the Bulldogs need to continue their winning streak to close the gap on St. Mary’s for the hope of sealing another WCC title. Thursday’s game should be, in some ways, treated like any other—a must win.
The media, critics, and BYU fans may have though the Cougars could waltz into the small school conference with their massive university and cause mayhem, but the Zag faithful knew that wouldn’t happen.
Thursday’s matchup will be the opportunity for GU to prove that the WCC belongs to the Bulldogs, and the newbies need to take a hike. Mr. Fredette won’t be there to rack up 34 points against the Zags like he did in 2011.
For goodness sakes the background on the West Coast Conference’s website is an image of Gonzaga’s campus—does anyone really think the Zags don’t run the WCC? GU put the conference on the map, so don’t expect this Eastern Washington Jesuit university to step down from the thrown and let the new kid on the block to have any say in what happens in the conference. The rivalry is still Gonzaga and St. Mary’s and BYU is just an outlier, not even on the west coast, scraping some post-Jimmer hope.