The BYU men’s basketball team gave a herculean effort on Friday night, coming up just one basket short against San Diego in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament.
The Cougars rallied from an 11-point deficit in the first half to take a late game lead, but the Toreros answered every run BYU threw at them, winning the game 72–69 to advance to the WCC semifinals against Saint Mary’s Saturday night.
“I thought we competed really hard,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “I thought we settled in in the second half and found some opportunities that were good for us. We just couldn’t sustain it. We had the lead a couple times, and USD just had an answer every time.”
The Toreros were led by sophomore guard Johnny Dee, who had 25 points, and helped seal the game by hitting five of his last six free throw attempts down the stretch. Sophomore guard Christopher Anderson also contributed 16 points and six assists in the game.
“We knew they were going to come out and ratchet it up in the second half, and they did,” San Diego coach Bill Grier said. “Down the stretch, our guys dug in and made the plays they needed to make to win the game. We’re proud of how they fought today.”
The Cougars started the game slowly, missing six straight shots including five layups right under the basket near the beginning of the game. They shot just 16.7 percent from beyond the arc in the first half. San Diego was able to capitalize on seven Cougar turnovers, turning them into eight points en route to an 11-point lead.
Despite the slow start, BYU started the second half fast, making their first four shots and going on a 12–3 run to take a two-point lead. From that point on, the game went back and forth, as neither team held more than a four-point lead until late in the game.
“Defensively, we were way more aggressive in the second half,” Rose said. “That led to some baskets in transition, and we got some energy. We were quicker to the ball and rebounded better. But when it came down to big possessions, we had empty possessions. Those are opportunities you can build your lead and increase your confidence. San Diego was extremely aggressive and they made big plays. We just weren’t able to overcome it.”
Even though Dee made most of his free throws in the final minute, the Cougars still had life thanks to a clutch three-point basket from sophomore Matt Carlino, which cut the lead to one. After Dee made two more free throws, Carlino’s second three-point attempt flirted with the rim a few times before finally spinning out at the buzzer to end the game.
“All the credit in the world to San Diego, because their game plan and the way they executed made it difficult for us to get over that edge,” senior guard Craig Cusick said. “We fully take all responsibility for that, having a sub-par first half. That made it hard for us to come back.”
The “Big Three” of the Cougars — Tyler Haws, Brandon Davies and Carlino — combined for 53 of the team’s 69 points in the loss. Haws and Davies scored 20 points apiece, while Carlino added 13 points and seven rebounds.
With the loss in the tournament, BYU falls to 21–11 on the season and any hope of playing in the NCAA Tournament for the ninth consecutive year is virtually gone. However, the Cougars will almost definitely have postseason action during the National Invitation Tournament later this month.