DENVER — While today's NCAA Tournament game at the Pepsi Center marks the first-ever meeting between BYU and Gonzaga, it certainly won't be the last.

This showdown will serve as a sneak peek of coming attractions in the West Coast Conference, the home of Gonzaga, and the future home of BYU, starting next season. The Cougars officially join the WCC in June, but today is the birth of what's expected to be an intense hoops rivalry.

"It's a preview of what's to come in the following years," said junior Noah Hartsock. "It's going to be exciting when we get to join the conference and play all the teams in the West Coast Conference. It would be great to start out 1-0 against them."

"They're always one of the top programs in their league," sophomore Stephen Rogers said of Gonzaga. "We hope to be one of the top programs as well."

"I won't be there next year to play against (Gonzaga), but these guys will be," senior Jimmer Fredette said of his teammates. "I'm sure they want to go out and say we have a good program, too. I hope it will be a great rivalry and that it will help the conference and just help West Coast basketball altogether."

'Zags players say they aren't thinking about the future.

"We just want to focus on this game. We're not focused in on next year as much as everyone wants to think," said center Robert Sacre. "We're just trying to have a good game, focus in on our boy Jimmer, focus in on the rest of the team."

BYU coach Dave Rose said once the season is over, "we'll spend a lot of time getting to know the teams in the WCC and look forward to the challenge. We won't know really for a year or so how it affects our program. But I do know that it will be a real challenge trying to continue to win games and compete at the highest level."

The addition of BYU will make the WCC a nine-team conference.

"It changes our league dramatically. It adds another top-25 school to it, gives us another school much like ourselves with a national profile," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. "I think it probably across the country enlightens some people to the level of play that's in our league. I think people will probably look at it as a three-bid potential league year in and year out."

The other members of the WCC are Saint Mary's, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Portland, Pepperdine, San Diego and Loyola Marymount.

JIMMER DANDY: In the six games since Brandon Davies' suspension, Fredette is averaging 34.8 points per game. With 32 points against Wofford, he surpassed the 1,000-point mark for the season. He has now scored 1,002 points in 2010-11.

COMMON OPPONENTS: BYU and Gonzaga have played two common foes — San Diego State and Saint Mary's.

The Cougars posted a 2-1 record against the Aztecs and defeated Saint Mary's, 74-73, in the San Padre Island Invitational in November.

The Bulldogs fell to SDSU at home in November, 79-76. They went 2-1 against St. Mary's.

THE RATINGS GAME: The BYU-Wofford game, televised on CBS, was the highest-rated NCAA Tournament game on Thursday, achieving a 3.5 rating.

email: jeffc@desnews.com