If the Gonzaga Bulldogs become the top-ranked team in the country for the first time in the school's history and receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament due to their 90-85 win at BYU on Thursday, they will have earned it.
The second-ranked Bulldogs, from the mid-major West Coast Conference, outlasted BYU in a brutal and physical game that went down to wire.
Kelly Olynyk, showing resolve and toughness after getting butchered numerous times in the paint, led Gonzaga with 19 points. He scored a key basket in the paint to give Gonzaga a 65-62 lead with less than a minute left in the game, quieting the raucous BYU crowd and giving Gonzaga some breathing room.
With Gonzaga leading 68-65 with eight seconds left in the game, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few chose to foul BYU's Craig Cusick instead of letting BYU attempt a potential game-tying three-point shot. Cusick missed the front end of the one-and-one, and Gonzaga's Elias Harris made two free throws to give the Bulldogs the five-point win.
Indiana, the current top-ranked team in the country, lost at Minnesota this week. Duke, the third-ranked team in the nation, lost at Virginia on Thursday. Michigan, the fourth-ranked team in the nation, lost at Penn State on Wednesday. As a result, if Gonzaga, a team that does not have a "bad" loss that mars their record, beats Portland at home on Saturday, they will most likely get the top ranking in both polls. More importantly, Gonzaga is slated in nearly all projections to snag one of the four top seeds in the NCAA tournament.
BYU's Brandon Davies and Bronson Kaufusi hammered Olynyk throughout the game, but Olynyk, one of the nation's most improved players and a candidate for national player of the year, showed he may be tournament-ready with his toughness.
And this game may have been what Gonzaga needed as well to become "tournament tough."
"BYU brings it," Few said, saying BYU plays as hard as any team in the country.
Few noted after the game that Gonzaga needed a game in a hostile environment in which the Bulldogs had to "execute down the stretch and make the right decisions."