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Provo • Donny Daniels had one goal in mind when he arrived at Gonzaga in 2010 to help coach Mark Few after 11 years as a Utah assistant coach, three years as Cal State Fullerton's coach and seven years as a UCLA assistant.
"I just didn't want to screw it up," he said.
Suffice to say, he hasn't.
Gonzaga brings its No. 1 ranking, perfect 22-0 record and a winning streak that is tied for longest in program history to BYU on Thursday at the sold-out Marriott Center, a spacious venue that is familiar to Daniels. The Zags are 3-2 at BYU and have won the past two meetings at the Marriott Center, 71-68 last year and 87-80 in 2015.
"I know the place well," Daniels said with a laugh via telephone Monday. "They come out and support their team. We have had success down there, and we have lost down there. I think for the most part you just try to be tough mentally and try to execute the game plan at hand and try to stay in the moment and not let those outside factors come into play."
Utah won seven games and lost four in Provo with Daniels on the sidelines under coach Rick Majerus, making him 10-6 overall at the 19,000-seat Marriott Center, which seats fewer folks after its renovations in 2012 and 2016.
"It's a tough place to play," Daniels said. "BYU for the most part has 10,000 more people [than most places] shouting at you, or maybe 12,000 more people in some cases."
All five BYU-Gonzaga games at the Marriott Center have been settled by 10 points or fewer, and last year's went down to the wire. BYU had an inbounds pass under its own basket knocked away when trailing by two points with 3.5 seconds on the clock, and Gonzaga escaped.
Star guard Kyle Collinsworth contended that Gonzaga freshman Josh Perkins held him on the play, which replay confirmed.
"The atmosphere is unreal," Perkins told The Spokesman-Review. "They really support BYU and they have a lot of great guys on that team. It is one of the toughest atmospheres I've played in. It will be a big test for us, but I think we're ready for it."
With the Cougars at 16-7, Thursday's game doesn't figure to be as competitive as past BYU-Gonzaga encounters. Ranked No. 1 for the second time in school history (2013), the Zags have defeated West Coast Conference opponents by an average of 28 points this season. Only three of their 22 games have been decided by fewer than 10 points.
Stats guru Ken Pomeroy gives BYU a 9 percent chance of winning, and ESPN's BPI gives Gonzaga a 77.1 percent chance to win Thursday and a 25.4 percent chance to win win out. Gonzaga's toughest remaining game is not at BYU; rather it is at No. 18 Saint Mary's on Feb. 11.
Few isn't buying predictions that it will be an easy game for the Zags.
"It is going to be a battle," he told the Spokesman-Review. "I am looking forward to it. I think we need it. I think it will be good for us one way or the other."
Daniels said he's learned over the years that anything can happen at the Marriott Center, where "BYU plays really well at home, and can shoot it well at home."
The Cougars, in third place in the WCC standings at 7-3, snapped Gonzaga's school-record 22-game winning streak and 47-game home winning streak with a 73-70 win at the Kennel in 2015, and also surprised the Zags there last January, 69-68. But the Cougars have just one consistent player, center Eric Mika, while Gonzaga has a half dozen or more.
Most notably, Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss is one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award (best point guard) and leads the Zags in scoring (14.8), assists (4.9) and steals (1.6) and is second best in rebounding (5.6).
"Nigel has definitely given us the maturity and leadership qualities you need, but the other guys, especially [Przemek] Karnowski, have really contributed to our success as well," Daniels said.
As for the 62-year-old Daniels, who was with the Utes when they made it to the 1998 national championship game, the big-picture goal now that he's managed to not mess up things is to help get the Zags to the Final Four.
"Hopefully we can get this program to that level," he said. "It is very difficult to do it. You have to keep striving for it. I don't know if it will come this year or next year. Who knows? Hopefully I can contribute. It has been a blessing here. I have been very blessed in this profession. I feel very fortunate."
BYU coach Dave Rose is 172-18 at the Marriott Center, and will go after his 300th career win Thursday night. If it happens, it would tie him with Dean Smith and Eddie Sutton as the 23rd fastest coach in NCAA Division I history to 300 wins.
"I think [Gonzaga] is as deep and complete of a team as Mark has had for awhile," Rose said. "We are looking forward to playing them, see how we match up, see where we are."
BYU vs. Gonzaga games at Marriott Center
Date • Result
Feb. 27, 2016 • Gonzaga 71, BYU 68
Dec. 27, 2014 • Gonzaga 87, BYU 80
Feb. 20, 2014 • BYU 73, Gonzaga 65
Feb. 28, 2013 • Gonzaga 75, BYU 70
Feb. 2, 2012 • BYU 83, Gonzaga 73