Until the final few minutes of BYU’s 100-96 loss to Oregon last Saturday, the Cougars held Ducks point guard Johnathan Loyd in check before he found some open teammates for easy baskets in the come-from-behind win.
The Cougars will face another excellent point guard Saturday as they open West Coast Conference play against Loyola Marymount and senior guard Anthony Ireland, the WCC’s second-leading scorer with a 19.2 average. Tipoff at Gersten is at 2 p.m. MST as BYU (8-5) opens league play against the Lions (8-4) for the second straight year.
Last year, however, the game was in Provo and was played on Jan. 3. League play begins in December this year because the conference has added a 10th team, Pacific, and every school will play 18 league games.
This will be the first of four two-game trips the Cougars will play in league, as they move on to Pepperdine — up the highway in Malibu, Calif. — on Monday. BYU’s “travel partner” is San Diego, which Pepperdine hosts on Saturday.
But Ireland’s effectiveness and back-to-back road games are the least of BYU coach Dave Rose’s concerns right now. He said after the loss at Oregon that the Cougars need to improve in several areas, including free-throw shooting and taking care of the basketball.
BYU committed 18 turnovers against Oregon and was just 22-for-36 from the free-throw line.
“I hope our guys go in with a lot of confidence. But we have to improve,” Rose said. “We have a lot of inexperienced guys who are trying to grow up on the job here. We need to use them and play them a lot, and hopefully we will see a little difference here after Christmas.”
Rose started the same five players — Tyler Haws, Matt Carlino, Kyle Collinsworth, Eric Mika and Nate Austin — for the ninth straight game and 11th time this season against Oregon, but he had Collinsworth play more point guard than usual and Carlino play shooting guard.
Carlino said he’s OK with the role change but needs more playing time there before he’s comfortable.
“I mean, as long as it helps the team, I’m good,” Carlino said. “We need to keep getting better — everyone personally, and as a team. … I think if we keep improving we can be a dangerous team.”
The Cougars are shooting 67.3 percent from the free-throw line, a percentage that must to improve if they hope to push Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for the WCC title.
“It is frustrating,” Carlino said. “They are [just] free throws. We need to knock them in. I have confidence in our guys that we will do that. It has been our Achilles’ heel the last two games especially. So we need to get better at that.”
BYU at Loyola Marymount
O At Gersten Pavilion (Los Angeles)
Tipoff • Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports. Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 8-5, LMU 8-4
Series history • BYU leads 4-3
Last meeting • BYU 73, LMU 70 (March 2, 2013)
About the Lions • They returned to Gersten Pavilion for the first time in a month before Christmas and defeated Cal Poly 79-59 and La Sierra 100-83. … PG Anthony Ireland is No. 7 on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,806 points and No. 4 on the career assists list with 447.
About the Cougars • Entering their third year in the WCC, they have won at least 10 conference games in each of coach Dave Rose’s eight seasons.