PROVO, Utah (ABC 4 Sports) - The BYU basketball team faces its toughest test of the year Thursday night when the Cougars take on #10 Gonzaga in Spokane. While their records may not be the same, the Cougars and Bulldogs have something in common.
Both teams have recently been victimized by heartbreaking buzzer-beaters within the last week.
Last Wednesday, the Cougars thought they had beaten St. Mary's when Tyler Haws hit a shot with 2.5 seconds left. But the Gaels raced the ball down court and Matthew Dellavedova hit a 35-footer at the buzzer, sending BYU home with a devastating 70-69 loss.
Three days later, Gonzaga was leading Butler by one point and had the ball with 3.5 seconds left. But Roosevelt Jones stole the inbounds pass and hit a game-winning shot as time expired, handing the Bulldogs just its second loss of the year.
"We just went through that, and we were hungry to get a win," said BYU guard Matt Carlino. "A lot of guys were like, 'Oh man, that's awful to lose like that.' I was like, 'We just lost like that."
"We know exactly what it feels like," added BYU's leading scorer Tyler Haws. "They're going to 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."
"They were going to be fired up regardless of winning or lose that game," said BYU center Brandon Davies. "That's what good teams do. They prepare themselves and get themselves ready to get back."
BYU bounced back very well after losing to St. Mary's with a thoroughly convincing 74-57 victory over San Diego on Saturday at the Marriott Center.
"For guys to come together like that after a heartbreaker was good to see," said forward Brock Zylstra. "None of us had ever felt that way after a loss. But bouncing back, playing great defense, relying on each other, hitting shots, I was very proud of our guys."
The Cougars are fully aware that the Bulldogs, who have lost just two home games in the last two seasons, are going to be plenty fired up in front of their rabid fans in a nationally televised game.
"Teams that don't lose much, when they do get beat, it really stings," said head coach Dave Rose. "All those players are such good competitors, and they'll have a real sense of urgency about trying to get this thing turned around."
BYU can make up for the St. Mary's loss by beating Gonzaga on the road. A win over the 10th-ranked team in the nation would carry a lot of weight when it comes to at-large considerations for the NCAA Tournament. But the Cougars aren't thinking about that just yet.
"We're not necessarily looking at the tournament," said Zylstra. "We're just looking at beating a team that is ranked 10th in the country. We know that if you beat a team like that, it's great to have on your resume."
"It's a big game," added Carlino. "They're nationally ranked, but even more than that, it's Gonzaga versus BYU and that is always huge. We just have to keep winning to win our conference."
The Cougars are 15-5 overall, 5-1 in the West Coast Conference, while Gonzaga has a record of 17-2, 4-0 in the WCC. After beating the Bulldogs in Provo last season, Gonzaga cruised past BYU in Spokane and at the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. Thursday's showdown could have big ramifications in determining the conference champion.
"Anytime you're playing teams that are at the top of the league, it should get your guys pretty excited," said Rose. "But you also realize the challenge. This is a team that has been really successful at home, so we're going to have to put a special game together to go in there and beat them."
BYU and Gonzaga tip off at 9:00 p.m. mountain time Thursday night on ESPN2.