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BYU seeks balance to dethrone dominant Gonzaga in WCC

Updated March 6, 2019 - 9:45 pm

BYU will bring two of the West Coast Conference’s top offensive players to Las Vegas when it opens play as the No. 3 seed in the league’s tournament on Saturday night at Orleans Arena.

Coach Dave Rose knows it will take more than that for the Cougars to win a conference crown.

“We’re a team that relies on just a couple guys,” he said. “We need balance and need more guys involved, especially on the scoring end.”

Whatever success they have will largely depend on their star juniors. Forward Yoeli Childs was a first-team All-WCC selection after averaging 21.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. T.J. Haws, a second-team selection, scored 18.1 points per game and averaged a team-high 5.1 assists.

The Cougars (19-12, 11-5 WCC) will need their best effort on both ends of the floor should they want to make a deep run and potentially defeat six-time defending champion Gonzaga.

Top-seeded Gonzaga arrives as No. 1 in the nation and unbeaten in league play. Rose doesn’t put up much of a fight at the notion the conference tournament is simply a coronation for the Bulldogs.

“It’s kind of tough to argue with that until someone beats them,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. They went 16-0 and they beat teams by 27 points a game. That’s pretty impressive. So in order to change that theory of the national media, what someone needs to do is step up and beat them.”

BYU has as good a chance as anyone in the field after tying with Saint Mary’s for second place in league play. The Cougars missed out on the two seed, however, and will have to play Saturday night against Santa Clara if the bracket holds. Gonzaga and the Gaels received byes into Monday’s semifinals.

The tournament opens Thursday with eighth-seeded Pepperdine taking on No. 9 Pacific at 6 p.m., followed by No. 7 San Diego playing No. 10 Portland in the nightcap.

BYU, which has a bye to the quarterfinals, had won five straight before suffering back-to-back losses to San Francisco and Gonzaga, closed the season with a 14-point win over San Diego.

That victory helped create a better feeling around practice this week for BYU, which has lost to Gonzaga in the championship game three out of the last five years.

“I think until a week ago we were playing our very best basketball of the season,” Rose said. “We had a tough week and then we came home and got a big win so I’m optimistic about the way we’re playing. Nobody appreciates a win as much as a team that just lost two games in the same week.”

Rose knows what he will get from Childs and Haws. It’s the rest of the team that could determine the fate of a Cougars team Rose believes has improved since a 92-90 overtime loss to UNLV at T-Mobile Arena in December.

Part of the reason is Nick Emery has steadily raised his play since sitting out the first nine games due to a suspension.

“I think our team is a better defensive team now,” Rose said. “We have Nick playing better and playing a lot more minutes. He’s been a pleasant surprise to us as far as the energy he gives us, especially on the defensive end of the floor.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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