Zags get first shot at new WCC rival

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Last time Gonzaga met Brigham Young, it didn’t go very well for the Zags.

In a 2011 game to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16, they got rousted from the tournament, 89-67.

Thursday night, they meet again in Provo, Utah, in their first meeting of the newly expanded West Coast Conference, and there’s a certain amount of desperation on both sides.

BYU (18-6, 6-3 WCC) has been tumbling down the wrong side of the tournament bubble the past couple of weeks, mostly because of a couple of convincing defeats against Saint Mary’s.

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Because of those same Gaels, the Zags (17-3, 7-1) are bordering on a must-win proposition to keep alive their hopes of a 12th consecutive WCC regular-season title.

Beyond that, there’s a certain amount of revenge on some minds in the Gonzaga camp.

“No question,” said center Robert Sacre. “They took away our dreams last year.”

Gonzaga doesn’t have to contend with BYU’s phenomenon of last season, Jimmer Fredette, who averaged 28.9 points and couldn’t be guarded in that NCAA matchup.

This time, it’s four BYU players in double figures, led by 6-foot-10 Noah Hartsock (17.5 points a game) and 6-7 forward Brandon Davies (14.3), who was suspended late in the season a year ago.

Outside the WCC-title implications, it’s a chance for Gonzaga to polish a good resume a week from an anticipated matchup against Saint Mary’s, and it can be done in a building that seats 22,700.

“It’ll be rocking,” said Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos. “We can’t afford another loss and get to where we want.”

“It’ll be a championship-type of game,” said Gonzaga assistant coach Ray Giacoletti.

Guard Gary Bell Jr. and forward Sam Dower have been nursing sore hips after a collision this week, but have been able to practice.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com