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BYU hoping to challenge Gonzaga, Saint Mary's as WCC play tips off

PROVO — Gonzaga continued to raise the national profile of the West Coast Conference last season by advancing all the way to the NCAA Tournament championship game.

Both the Zags and Saint Mary’s have been carrying the WCC banner for a while. Entering its seventh season in the WCC, BYU is still looking for its first WCC regular-season championship.

Based on what they accomplished in the preseason, Gonzaga (10-3) and Saint Mary’s (11-2) remain the league favorites.

But the Cougars (11-2) are riding an eight-game winning streak as they get set to tip of conference play against Portland Thursday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv) at the Marriott Center.

“I’m really proud of this team and how hard we’ve worked. But we know we have to get a lot better to get to where we want to get. We’re not satisfied,” said BYU forward Yoeli Childs. “This is a team that’s hungry that plays with a chip on its shoulder. We come out every day in practice with that mentality. We could be 11-0 right now and that’s not enough for us. We want more. We want to get better every day. We want to prove that we are an NCAA Tournament team, we want to prove that we’re elite and can win the conference and we want to prove that we can be a national team.”

One of the most improved programs in the WCC is San Diego (9-3), which produced a couple of big road wins at Colorado and Grand Canyon in the preseason.

“San Diego is really good. Those three road wins are really impressive,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “They’ve got a couple of guys that sat out last year that are playing for them, Division I transfers. They’ve always been a really good defensive team.”

San Francisco, meanwhile, knocked off one of the top teams in the Mountain West Conference, Nevada, in Las Vegas last weekend.

Rose likes what he saw from his team in the preseason and he feels his team was prepared for what it will face over the next two months.

“We played a lot of teams that I feel like play styles of teams in our league. A lot of pick and roll. A lot of guys that are patient and execute,” he said. “From that aspect, our ability to be able to guard certain things will be familiar to us when we start playing in the league. That’s a good thing. Defensively is where we’ve taken a real step forward as far as our ability to guard a 30-second possession.”

No doubt, conference play is a grind.

“For the most part, we know the challenge because the coaches that are returning. There are no new coaches in the league so there is no new system,” Rose said. “Probably the biggest thing about the league right now is that they gave us two home games to start the league. It’s easier to manage that with the holidays.”

Portland (6-7, 0-0) at BYU (11-2, 0-0)

Thursday, 7 p.m. MST Marriott Center


Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

Portland will provide a test for BYU in Thursday's opener.

"This Portland team is way different than last year's team," Rose said. "They have a lot of new players. It's the style that they play, too, that is a lot different. They have a bunch of really good shooting, multi-threat guards. They can penetrate and drive it. What they really do is shoot 3s and make 3s. They make over 10 a game."

Childs said the WCC will be competitive this season.

“I’ve seen a little bit of Gonzaga playing on ESPN and Saint Mary’s a little bit. They’re solid as always. We have a really good league. The top teams in the league and the bottom teams in the league are all still very good teams. We have to come out every night prepared. We’ve got to come out with a chip on our shoulders and be ready to roll.”

WCC team capsules

BYU Cougars

National ranking: N/A

Record: 11-2

Statistical leaders: Yoeli Childs (16.6 points), Yoeli Childs (8.5 rebounds), TJ Haws (4.1 assists).

Coach: Dave Rose (315-113)

Best wins: at Princeton (65-56), vs. Utah (77-65)

RPI ranking: 54

Fast fact: Entering its sixth season in the WCC, BYU is looking for its first regular-season championship.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

National ranking: No. 20 (AP), No. 19 (USA Today)

Record: 10-3

Statistical leaders: Johnathan Williams (15.2 points), Johnathan Williams (7.8 rebounds), Josh Perkins (5.2 assists).

Coach: Mark Few (513-113)

Best wins: vs. Texas (76-71), at Washington (97-70)

RPI ranking: 48

Fast fact: The Zags own the top field goal percentage (49.5 percent) in the nation over the past eight seasons.

Loyola Marymount Lions

National ranking: N/A

Record: 5-6

Statistical leaders: James Batemon (19.1 points), Eli Scott (7.9 rebounds), James Batemon (5.0 assists).

Coach: Mike Dunlap (370-166, 42-61 at Loyola Marymount)

Best wins: at Incarnate Word (91-87), at CSU Northridge (74-57)

RPI ranking: 234

Fast fact: LMU’s roster has only five returning letter-winners with a total of nine years of Division I experience to go along with eight newcomers, five of them freshmen.

Pacific Tigers

National ranking: N/A

Record: 5-8

Statistical leaders: Roberto Gallinat (13.7 points), Jahlil Tripp (9.5 rebounds), Jahlil Tripp (4.5 assists).

Coach: Damon Stoudamire (16-30)

Best wins: at Air Force (83-71), at UC Riverside (57-55)

RPI ranking: 222

Fast fact: Stoudamire, a former NBA Rookie of the Year and Arizona All-American, enters his second season as Pacific’s head coach.

Pepperdine Waves

National ranking: N/A

Record: 3-9

Statistical leaders: Kameron Edwards (15.9 points), Kameron Edwards (6.8 rebounds), Colbey Ross (5.4 assists).

Coach: Marty Wilson (88-119)

Best wins: vs. Oral Roberts (80-76), vs. UC Riverside (70-59)

RPI ranking: 298

Fast fact: The Waves have suffered a slew of injuries for the second season in a row, as injured players have missed 28 games, including 17 by projected starters.

Portland Pilots

National ranking: N/A

Record: 6-7

Statistical leaders: Josh McSwiggan (14.1 points), Philipp Hartwich (9.2 rebounds), Jojo Walker (2.8 assists).

Coach: Terry Porter (17-29)

Best wins: vs. San Jose State (64-55), vs. Sacramento State (80-75)

RPI ranking: 227

Fast fact: Porter, an NBA veteran and former NBA head coach, is in his second season at the helm.

Saint Mary’s Gaels

National ranking: N/A

Record: 11-2

Statistical leaders: Jock Landale (21.2 points), Jock Landale (9.6 rebounds), Emmett Naar (8.6 assists).

Coach: Randy Bennett (376-160)

Best wins: vs. New Mexico State (92-74), vs. Dayton (69-54)

RPI ranking: 49

Fast fact: The Gaels advanced to the NCAA Tournament in five of the last nine years. Saint Mary’s has made 10 consecutive trips to the postseason.

San Diego Toreros

National ranking: N/A

Record: 9-3

Statistical leaders: Isaiah Pineiro (15.2 points), Isaiah Pineiro (6.3 rebounds), Isaiah Wright (6.0 assists).

Coach: Lamont Smith (28-40)

Best wins: at Grand Canyon (72-62), at Colorado (69-59)

RPI ranking: 113

Fast fact: The Toreros matched their best start (5-0) since opening the 2013-14 and 1990-91 seasons with that mark and they enjoyed their best start (8-2) in their Division I history.

San Francisco Dons

National ranking: N/A

Record: 8-5

Statistical leaders: Souley Boum (14.0 points), Chase Foster (5.4 rebounds), Frankie Ferrari (3.0 assists).

Coach: Kyle Smith (129-100, 28-18 at San Francisco)

Best wins: vs. UC Davis (74-61), at Nevada (66-64)

RPI ranking: 144

Fast fact: Last year in Smith’s first in charge of the program, he led the Dons to a 20-win season and a CBI postseason berth.

Santa Clara Broncos

National ranking: N/A

Record: 3-9

Statistical leaders: KJ Feagin (19.0 points), Henry Caruso (7.0 rebounds), Matt Hauser (4.3 assists).

Coach: Herb Sendek (443-320, 20-25 at Santa Clara)

Best wins: vs. Northern Arizona (89-57)

RPI ranking: 348

Fast fact: Sendek has collected 443 career Division I victories after previous stops at Miami (Ohio), North Carolina State and Arizona State.