The BYU men’s basketball team outlasted a feisty Portland team Saturday night to secure a 76-66 win and the third seed in the upcoming West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.
Senior forward Noah Hartsock was sidelined because of the knee injury he suffered in the second half against Santa Clara on Feb. 18. Despite his injury, he suited up in the familiar white uniform that Cougar fans have been accustomed to seeing and cheered on his teammates from the bench.
“My heart will always kind of hurt for Noah,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “He’s meant so much to us and he didn’t get the chance to finish like he wanted to. Hopefully in the next two or three days we can get some positive results on how that thing heals and we can get him ready for next week.”
Guard Charles Abouo, the only other senior on the Cougars’ roster, made his familiar presence felt, as he scored 16 points and had eight rebounds in the game. He also provided aggressive defense and big plays in the waning minutes to put the game out of reach.
“Our aggressiveness on both ends sums up our team,” Abouo said. “We get a lot of confidence from our fans, and it’s fun to do those types of plays. I just wanted to be more aggressive down the stretch and help the team.”
Junior forward Brandon Davies made up for Hartsock’s absence by scoring 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the floor, making it tough for the Pilots to adjust defensively. Junior guard Brock Zylstra added 20 points and nine rebounds off the bench. He also hit 4-of-8 from beyond the arc.
“It’s just us being more aggressive,” Zylstra said. “It comes as a whole team as we are more aggressive and as we play hard and do things that’s we’re supposed to that we come out with a win.”
Sophomore forward Ryan Nicholas had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Pilots (6-23, 3-13 West Coast Conference), who wouldn’t go away in the game. Sophomore guard Tanner Riley contributed 16 points, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range. The Pilots cut the lead to six with just over five minutes to play, but the crowd gave some energy to the team, and the Pilots couldn’t get closer.
“It was a hard-fought, competitive game and I’m glad we got the win,” Rose said. “I’m really happy for our players and their efforts tonight. We had guys step up and play well, and now we’ll look forward to the tournament.”
The Cougars (24-7, 12-4) head into the WCC tournament with the No. 3 seed. This will allow them to receive a bye until the quarterfinals on Friday, March 2, where they will play the winner of the San Diego and Pepperdine game that will take place on Thursday, March 1.
“Heading into this tournament is exciting,” Hartsock said. “Playing in a new arena will be a good change for us and we’re looking forward to seeing some teams again.”
The tournament will be played in the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament while the destiny of the other teams will rest in the hands of the selection committee.
“In the postseason it’s do or die, so we have to be ready to go out and leave everything on the floor every game,” Abouo said. “I think we’re good enough to get in (the NCAA) tournament regardless. But if you win the conference tournament then you control your own destiny. That’s one way you can guarantee your team a bid. But we know there’s a bunch of other teams that are thinking the same thing. We’re confident in our ability to win this thing.”