Provo • After their four losses in November and December, all away from the Marriott Center and all by 10 points or more, BYU coach Dave Rose maintained that the Cougars were still capable of turning into an above-average basketball team, one that could extend its streak of six straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
Judging by their last six games — coming on the heels of that 79-64 loss at Baylor — the Cougars have proved their coach’s confidence in them to be well-founded. On their longest winning streak (six) since Jimmer Fredette led them to seven in a row toward the end of the 2010-11 season, the Cougars have moved back onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Experts such as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi will have more to say about that Monday morning when the latest round of tournament projections comes out, but with an RPI in the low 30s and a victory, finally, over a team (Santa Clara) with an RPI under 100, BYU’s tournament stock is rising. Led by reliable stars Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws and the resurgence of point guard Matt Carlino, who has been stellar in the West Coast Conference games to date, the Cougars (4-0, 14-4) are playing their best basketball of the season.
That was especially evident Saturday afternoon at Santa Clara when BYU put together an 18-0 run to turn a tie game in the second half into a laugher. The Cougars shot 53.6 from the field, including 6-for-12 from 3-point range, and players not named Davies committed just four turnovers. Five Cougars scored in double figures in the 82-64 rout of a team that threw a scare into Duke last month.
“Our guys were playing so hard. That was a great win,” Rose said. “It would have been difficult to face the guys, as hard as they played, if we wouldn’t have won.”
The Cougars have shown the ability to lock down teams defensively lately, and held the Broncos to 7-for-22 shooting from 3-point range.
“I feel like all our guys are locked in, and we are playing good basketball right now,” said Tyler Haws, who led the Cougars with 24 points and is a strong candidate to win the WCC Player of the Week award, which will be announced Monday.
The Cougars were determined to get off to a decent start, and senior guard Brock Zylstra ensured that they did, scoring 13 points in the first half on 5-for-6 shooting.
“I think our guys became really confident in our ability to execute in the half-court offensively, and then we got some breakouts where we got a long rebound and pushed that thing up and scored in transition,” Rose said. “So we just kind of took advantage of our opportunities, and the guys got a lot of confidence from the way we were playing defense.”
Davies did not get in foul trouble for the second straight game, but it was obvious the Broncos were focused on limiting his effectiveness. He scored just 13 points, thanks in part to seven turnovers, but still grabbed eight rebounds and had two assists and two steals.
Carlino, who is averaging 17.3 points and 5.8 assists a game in WCC play, did not commit a turnover and posted eight assists. His assist-to-turnover ratio in the four league games is a sparkling 4.6.
Up next for the Cougars is Wednesday’s 9 p.m. game against St. Mary’s at the Marriott Center as Rose (199-58) goes after his 200th career victory.
St. Mary’s at BYU
P Wednesday, 9 p.m.
TV • ESPNU