The BYU men’s basketball team held on to win a tough game in Friday night’s quarterfinals against San Diego to advance to the West Coast Conference Semifinals tomorrow night against Gonzaga.
The win gave the Cougars its sixth consecutive season of at least 25 wins, showing the nation that they have been one of the top teams consistently. Senior forward Noah Hartsock returned from his knee injury to lead all scorers with 19 points in the 73-68 win. He also added five rebounds and two blocks.
“This kid is as tough as any player I’ve ever been around,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “There was so much riding on him, so much attention, but his history during challenges, especially injuries has been really good. He was terrific.”
The Cougars shot 54.7 percent from the floor, including 46.7 percent from beyond the arc. The second half showed a lot of improvement on shooting percentages, as they shot 50 percent from 3, and 60 percent overall.
“At halftime, we talked about being the more aggressive team, about playing harder and competing,” Hartsock said. “That’s why we were able to maintain the lead through almost the entire second half because we were being more aggressive and making plays.”
The game went into halftime tied at 34. Hartsock then scored15 points in the second half, and junior forward Brandon Davies added 12. Davies finished with 16, bringing the Cougars back to their formidable inside game. In addition to the post-players, junior guard Brock Zylstra had 12 points and six boards, while senior guard Charles Abouo added 11 points and seven rebounds.
“If you look at the four players that had the most positive stats tonight, it’s our four returning guys,” Rose said. “The first time guys had a little bit of a struggle, because this is a whole new experience. Brandon, Noah, Charles and Brock are guys that have played a lot of tournament games, and they understand their roles.”
Freshman guard Matt Carlino scored only eight points, but he also dished out seven assists. It was the defense, though that eventually won the game for BYU.
The Cougars focused defensively on freshman guard Johnny Dee of the Toreros, who had a career-high 30 points on Thursday night against Pepperdine. The Cougars were able to hold him to just nine points on 3-for-11 shooting.
“A lot of that goes to Charles,” Zylstra said. “He’s an amazing defender. In most matchups, he’s on their best player. We know (Dee) can shoot the ball and get it out of his hands pretty quick. He’s a great player. Charles and even Anson did a great job on him today.”
The Cougars went the last 5:38 without making a shot from the floor, capitalizing on five free throws down the stretch and playing tough defense.
“You go through a season, and go through so many close games, and so many ways to try to win a game at the end,” Rose said. “We have a lot of confidence in these guys that they can get it done. You want to execute your gameplan and have it go exactly how you want it to go, but sometimes you’re more impressed with your guys if they are able to do it a little bit different.”
The Cougars will play No. 2 seed Gonzaga tomorrow night at 9 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and the winner will advance to the West Coast Conference championship game.
“I think that a year and a half ago, when the WCC invited us to join their league, these are the games that everone anticipated,” Rose said. “(Gonzaga) has a great tradition and great history, and have been the juggernaut in this tournament, so we’ll do our best to see what we can do tomorrow.”