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Fresh off upset of Gonzaga, BYU visits Portland in good position to contend for WCC title

PORTLAND — After celebrating another signature road victory over nationally-ranked Gonzaga Thursday night, BYU knows there’s no time for a letdown.

The Cougars upset the No. 25 Zags, 69-68, at The Kennel after rallying from a 13-point, second-half deficit.

BYU visits Portland Saturday (4 p.m., MST, ROOT RM/NW) at the Chiles Center.

“It’s big. It’s a win that nobody really thought we could get,” said senior forward Nate Austin. “It means nothing if we go to Portland and lose. We have to finish business down the road. But right now, it puts us in a good place to achieve our goals, which is to win a conference championship. We’re on pace for a conference championship. Hopefully, we can follow it up with a great effort against Portland.”

“It creates momentum and energy,” guard Kyle Collinsworth said of beating the Zags. “It’s a big road win and the fact we can win on the road and at the toughest arenas in our conference.”

Gonzaga has dropped only four WCC home games since The Kennel opened in 2004 and BYU has claimed two of those victories.

Last year’s monumental 73-70 upset of the then-No. 3 Zags capped the regular season and significantly enhanced the Cougars' NCAA tournament résumé.

Thursday’s triumph in Spokane gave BYU (13-5, 4-1) a huge lift in the race for the West Coast Conference title. The Cougars, in their fifth year as members of the league, have never won a WCC title.

“You beat a nationally-ranked team and obviously that’s a big thing,” said coach Dave Rose. “For us, we’re in a position now where we can compete for a regular-season league championship. That’s what we’re really focused on. To make this win valid, you have to win on Saturday. Every game is going to be a battle.”

The Zags, of course, aren’t conceding anything.

“We’re still going to win the league,” Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins told the Spokane Spokesman-Review after Thursday’s game. “I’m positive of that.”

The Cougars and Zags meet in Provo in the regular-season finale in Provo on Feb. 27.

While star forward Kyle Wiltjer poured in a game-high 35 points for Gonzaga Thursday, Austin swatted away his potential game-winning shot as he drove to the basket with two seconds remaining.

“(Wiltjer) was going to get a pretty good look until Nate came in from the weak side and blocked it,” Rose said.

The Zags’ other star, Domantas Sabonis, finished with just five points in 21 minutes.

“We were fortunate that Sabonis got into foul trouble. We didn’t spend a lot of minutes guarding both of those guys on the floor at the same time,” Rose said. “That was an advantage for us because they are so good together. His foul trouble limited his minutes. We were guarding a different team.”

“We started to make him work for everything,” Austin said of Sabonis. “He’s a smart player. We had to outwork him. I think we frustrated him pretty good.”

Collinsworth scored 18 of his team-high 20 points in the second half after sitting out much of the first half in foul trouble. Chase Fischer chipped in 18 points with several timely buckets and Kyle Davis recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Davis also had four blocks.

The win came two weeks after BYU lost its WCC opener at Saint Mary's.

“It’s just a huge win, to finally get a big road win for us. We’re stepping up on the road and kind of figuring it out," Collinsworth said. "Someone told me we only had three guys that played here last year. It kind of sums up this team. We’re young and new and we’re starting to figure it out and we’re playing as the season goes. That’s what you want. We’re going to keep battling. As a leader, I’m going to keep doing everything I can to help my teammates and put us in a good spot.”

BYU made only 3 of 17 3-pointers Thursday, but the three the Cougars made, all in the second half, were crucial — including freshman Nick Emery’s 28-footer with 1:36 left. That turned out to be the game-winner.

“I kept telling him the whole game, ‘Stay in the present and keep going,’” Collinsworth said of Emery, who finished 1 of 6 from the field. “His mind was right and as soon as he had that ball he knocked it down because he stayed positive. It was a huge play for us.”

Rose said Thursday’s victory was a confidence booster for his team.

“We can really believe in our ability to win anywhere when it’s not our best offensive night. Our guys have been shooting for this for a long time. This is a good win in a real defensive fashion, something our guys can hang their hat on."

Portland (8-11, 2-4) lost at home to San Diego 82-71 Thursday night. Alec Wintering scored 23 points and Bryce Pressley added 20 for the Pilots.