BYU (13–8, 5–4) lost in tough battles at Portland and Gonzaga last weekend, losing a second-half comeback effort in Spokane that sent the Cougars trickling down to fourth in the WCC standings.
They’re at home this week to take on a Pacific squad new to the conference this year, and a familiar Saint Mary’s team that left those in the Marriott Center stunned after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in January last year.
It’s not likely when Saint Mary’s (16–5, 6–2) comes to town on Saturday, Feb.1, that BYU will forget how last year’s contest in Provo ended. With five seconds to play, and the game tied at 67, Tyler Haws hit a potential game-winner that all but sealed the game for the Cougars. But with two seconds on the clock, Matthew Dellavedova heaved up a 35-footer that went in and won the game for the Gaels in a nail-biting finish, 70–69.
Pacific (11–8, 2–6) has had an up-and-down season so far. The Tigers started off the year 8–1 but have fallen out of the conversation in league play.
Despite their record, the Tigers’ energy and execution speak volumes to BYU head coach Dave Rose, and he isn’t willing to overlook them.
“On film they look really impressive. They run their offense really well,” Rose said. “They have really good balance in their scoring, and they have the ability to be really explosive too. Hopefully our guys are ready for it.”
Coming off a four-game home stand, the Gaels enter their longest road stretch of the season, starting with San Diego on Thursday, and BYU on Saturday. The Cougars have now lost two straight in conference, dipping back into the middle of the standings, but they still have a chance for a post-season berth if they can get on a winning streak.
Stepping up to take the role as mentor and emotional leader, junior guard Tyler Haws hasn’t given up, understanding the season isn’t over because of a few losses.
“There is still a ton to play for,” Haws said. “Practice is still intense, and we’re not done fighting. We have played against the best teams in the country. … I think we’re trying to reach our full potential and finish this second half of conference the right way and then make a run in our conference tournament.”
If any one statistic has killed the Cougars this season, it has been defending against the three. Portland shot 61 percent from behind the arc, a startling figure, and Gonzaga, not making nearly as many, shot 45 percent. The two combined for 24 three-point shots, holding the Cougars to just 11. The Gaels won’t make it any easier in this contest, as they have five players shooting at least 40 percent from three.
“Teams have just really got hot from the three-point line,” Rose said. “It seems to be teams that have really good offensive post players, and that’s where we need to sure up our defense. … Hopefully we can respond well this time.”
Many times, the defensive effort has been there, but there are moments when a defensive effort has lacked, giving teams opportunities to take open jumpers.
“I think it’s just a mental focus and being consistent,” Haws said. “There have been times when we locked down and got stops, and then other times we relax. We are tying to fix those things and address them and get better.”
While the defense has lacked, the scoring has been there for the Cougars, averaging 87 points per game, second in NCAA Div. I, led by Haws, who has risen to fourth in the country in scoring at 23 points per game. They also feature one of the nation’s premier big men in true freshman Eric Mika, averaging 13 points and six rebounds per contest. The do-it-all man for the Cougars is sophomore guard Kyle Collinsworth, putting up 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game, leading the way at point.
“We’ve just got to win and defend our home floor,” Haws said. “If we can defend people we’re going to start winning games because we can put points up on the board. Every game in league is a grind and a battle, and you got to come ready to play every night.”
The Pacific game will tip off today at 7 p.m. on BYUtv, and Saint Mary’s will tip on Sat., Feb. 1, at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.