Santa Clara, Calif. • The opponent wasn’t as good, but the home-crowd feeling was about the same. The foul situation wasn’t as bad, but their leading scorer was banged up, a bit gimpy, after a scary second-half fall.
This time, however, the BYU Cougars managed to put away a foe playing with nothing to lose. Noah Hartsock scored a game-high 21 points and returned to action after hurting his knee during crunch time, and Brandon Davies added 20 as BYU slugged its way past Santa Clara 82-67 in a West Coast Conference game in front of an announced sellout crowd of 4,700 at Leavey Center.
For the final box score, go here: http://sltrib.sportsdirectinc.com/basketball/ncaab-boxscores.aspx?page=/data/NCAAB/results/2011-2012/boxscore830571.html
The win, pushing BYU to 23-6 overall, 11-3 in the WCC, came two days after the Cougars blew a late lead against San Francisco and needed Matt Carlino’s last-second heroics to pull off an 85-84 win about an hour’s drive up Highway 101. Speaking of the Dons, they stunned Gonzaga 66-65 on Saturday night to drop the Zags (11-3, 21-5) into a second-place tie in the WCC with BYU.
Gonzaga plays host to BYU on Thursday, with the winner setting itself up to challenge St. Mary’s (12-2) for at least a piece of the league title.
At Leavey Center, filled with more BYU fans than Santa Clara fans by about a 2-to-1 margin, the Cougars had just a 34-31 halftime lead, and Santa Clara was surging going into the break. But the Cougars took control early in the second half with a 7-2 run, then kept a relatively comfortable lead that stretched to as many as 19 points.
“I think it is really important, how you close out games,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “The other night, we weren’t as good at it. But we were able to get a win.”
Really, the Cougars did it with defense, holding a team that lives and dies at the 3-point line -- mostly dies, given its record -- to just 5-for-17 shooting from beyond the arc. The Broncos (8-19, 0-14 WCC) made 10 against Gonzaga on Thursday in almost taking the Zags to the wire, but had two in the second half while hoisting up eight.
“We have played a lot of zone this year, but we decided we would have to spend a lot of the game playing man-to-man [defense] because of how good they are from the 3-point line,” Rose said. [Santa Clara’s threes] have got to be somewhere close to a season-low.”
Not quite, but close. The Broncos had four at San Diego in a 70-65 loss on Feb. 4.
“We turned up things defensively in the second half, got more stops,” Davies said.
Offensively, the Cougars pounded it inside and shot 58.5 percent, partly because point guard Matt Carlino wasn’t himself after scoring a career-high 30 points on Thursday at San Francisco.
Carlino wore a brace on his right knee, which was slightly sprained, played only seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, and scored his only basket with 3:04 remaining.
“I was really proud of the gutty effort from [Carlino],” Rose said. “... He had seven assists, something like that. ... He really spread the ball around for us, really triggered our transition scores in the second half.”
The Cougars outscored the Broncos 14-0 on fastbreak points, with Charles Abouo a catalyst in that department. He added 14 points, while Brock Zylstra chipped in 12.
BYU 82, Santa Clara 67
R In Short • BYU stays in the West Coast Conference race by grinding out a 15-point win over the WCC’s worst team.
Key Moment • BYU starts the second half on a 7-2 run after Santa Clara goes into halftime with the momentum.
Key Stat • After making 10 3-pointers against Gonzaga at home on Thursday, the Broncos make just five (on 17 attempts) against BYU.