No team in NCAA men’s basketball history has won more consecutive conference road games than No. 4 Gonzaga, and the Bulldogs will seek to extend that streak on Thursday night at BYU.
The 98-39 win at Santa Clara last Thursday was the Bulldogs’ 27th West Coast Conference road victory. That broke an NCAA record they shared with the UCLA teams from 1967-70.
“That’s based on coaches,” forward Brandon Clarke said. “They’ve been here for years.”
But senior guard Josh Perkins said the players also deserve a share of the glory.
“We take every game seriously,” Perkins said. “We are even more serious on the road.”
The 59-point victory was also the largest road win by a Division I team against a Division I opponent since 1996, when Southern California won at UC Irvine by 62 (107-45).
The streak will get a stern test at BYU (13-9, 5-2), where some 20,000 fans create a tough environment.
“It’s incredible with the amount of people they get, the passion with which they cheer,” coach Mark Few said. “It creates a very, very big challenge.”
Few said the road win streak depends on amping up toughness, taking care of the ball and “being able to have your defense travel.”
The BYU game opens a four-game stretch that will go a long way in determining whether the Zags win a seventh consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season title.
Gonzaga (19-2, 6-0 West Coast) follows the BYU game with games against San Diego on Saturday and San Francisco and Saint Mary’s next week. Those are the top four teams in the league behind the Zags.
The Zags have had a week off and “our legs are fresh,” Perkins said.
Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring (91.4 points per game), field goal shooting (52.4 percent) and margin of victory (25.1).
In Gonzaga’s 20-year run of NCAA tournaments, this is the first team to average more than 90 points.
The 2017 team that won 37 games and reached the national title game averaged 82.6 points. Last year’s team averaged 83.5 points, the current record.
“Our offense is obviously really good,” Clarke said. “But we can’t beat teams that are really, really good with just offense only.”
In fact, both Gonzaga losses — to No. 1 Tennessee and at No. 9 North Carolina — were largely because of defensive breakdowns.
“It was the reason we lost the games that we lost,” Clarke said.
Since those December losses, the defense has been playing much better, Clarke said.
“We made it a focal point of our practices,” Clarke said.
The defense has come up big in some recent games where opponents went to a slow-down offense in an effort to keep the scoring low. The Zags have kept league foes under 40 points twice.
“Basketball is unpredictable,” guard Zach Norvell Jr. said. “In a game, going with the flow and adjusting on the fly are signs of a mature team.'”