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BYU women’s basketball is the ‘last team in’ on ESPN’s latest bracketology. Why its game with Gonzaga is so crucial

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BYU guard Shaylee Gonzalez and the Cougars host No. 16 Gonzaga Thursday. The game provides BYU with an opportunity to strengthen its NCAA Tournament resume against one of the country’s hottest teams.

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It’s difficult to undersell how big of a matchup the BYU women’s basketball team faces when it hosts No. 16 Gonzaga Thursday evening.

The Cougars sit as the last team in the NCAA Tournament field in ESPN’s latest bracketology, ahead of a first four out that includes Notre Dame, Clemson, USC and LSU, which BYU beat by 16 in their season opener.

The Zags, meanwhile, lead the West Coast Conference standings by a comfortable margin and pose a significant challenge to BYU, though the contest provides the Cougars an opportunity to strengthen their NCAA Tournament resume. 

What awaits BYU

The Bulldogs (18-2, 13-0 WCC) have won 17 straight, with their last loss back on Dec. 6, 2020. During that stretch, 13 of those victories have come by double-digits, and of the four single-digit wins for Gonzaga, three came in December. 

The Cougars (14-3, 10-2 WCC) gave the Zags their best game recently. In their previous meeting in Spokane, Washington, 16 days ago, BYU trailed by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter before rallying to tie the game at 54. Gonzaga outscored the Cougars 9-2 in the final two minutes to win, 63-56.

Gonzaga is tops in the WCC in a variety of team categories, including scoring offense (72.3) and scoring defense (56.4), while the Zags shoot 47.4% from the field. BYU sports a field-goal percentage defense (.348) that is 14th nationally.

Both teams have solid contributors across the board — the Zags are led by senior guard Jill Townsend (13.6 points per game) and senior forward Jenn Wirth (13.3 ppg and 8.6 rebounds per game), while the Cougars are paced by sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales (17.8 ppg) and sophomore forward Lauren Gustin (12.1 ppg and 12.9 rpg).

In the NET

The Bulldogs are No. 19 in the NCAA’s NET rankings going into the matchup, and a win over the Zags would represent BYU’s best win of the season. The Cougars are No. 49 in the NET rankings as of Thursday morning. 

Thus far, BYU’s best wins of the season — on the NET metric — came against LSU (No. 61) and Montana State (No. 98). The Cougars’ three losses have come against San Diego (No. 104), Washington (No. 94) and Gonzaga.

How to watch

BYU vs. No. 16 Gonzaga

  • When: Thursday, 6 p.m. MST
  • Where: Marriott Center
  • TV: BYUtv and the BYUtv App
  • Livestream: BYUtv Live