Provo • Defend, rebound and make free throws.
When the BYU Cougars do that this year, they are awfully tough to beat. When they do it in the Marriott Center, where they have lost just once this season, it is almost impossible to knock them off.
The Cougars routed Santa Clara 89-76 in a West Coast Conference game Thursday that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. With a smallish late-night crowd of 12,518 looking on, the Cougars outscored the Broncos 44-24 in the paint, won the rebounding battle 50-32 and held the visitors to 40.3 percent shooting.
“We were really pleased [with how they dominated inside],” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “When we played over there [in a 91-81 win], we shot the ball really well, in the 60-percent range. We had to do that, because we weren’t getting a lot from our post guys as far as scoring was concerned.”
The Cougars also made their free throws, and there were a lot of them, finishing 31 of 42 from the stripe after making 22 of their first 24 when the outcome was still in doubt.
“Tonight, I thought that Eric [Mika] and Nate [Austin] and Luke [Worthington] were really good around the basket,” Rose said.
And Tyler Haws was good from everywhere.
He led BYU with 27 points, despite not playing the final 10 minutes of the game. It was the fifth straight game in which Haws has scored 20 or more points.
“It is unreal, the way he is scoring … almost Kevin Durant-like,” Anson Winder said. “I don’t expect Ty to drop off at all.”
Kyle Collinsworth added 18 points and five steals and Mika posted 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Rose said he took Haws out midway through the second half and the Cougars leading by 20 points thinking he would give him three minutes of rest and get him back in.
“But the way the game went, that group that was in played pretty well and got the score up a good distance, and then we were able to kind of coast through it.”
And that was fine with Haws, knowing San Francisco comes to the Marriott Center on Saturday night for a showdown of second-place teams.
“It felt great,” Haws said. “I love it when our team jumps out like that and we can get a big lead.”
The Cougars improved to 8-4 in West Coast Conference play with their third straight win.
Santa Clara lost its seventh straight game and fell to 3-9 and 10-15.
Santa Clara got within 11 points, 59-48, early in the second half on 3-pointers by Brandon Clark and Jalen Richard, but BYU (16-9) answered with a 12-2 run and coasted from there.
The Cougars led by as many as 27 points in the second half before the reserves played the final 10 minutes.
Haws had another big first half, going 5 of 6 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line for 17 points as the Cougars took a 53-40 lead at the break.
Santa Clara freshman Jared Brownridge had 14 points in the first half, but finished with just 16. He was 0 for 6 from 3-point range.
“I think that Anson did a really nice job on [Brownridge] for most of the night. Skyler [Halford] had him for a while,” Rose said. “To hold him without a 3-point field goal is quite an accomplishment.”
It was a sloppy start for both teams, but the Cougars seemed to right themselves faster.
Jerry Brown’s jumper pulled the Broncos to within a point at 11-10 with 15:35 remaining in the half, but Haws and Skyler Halford hit 3-pointers and Kyle Collinsworth made a driving basket to put the Cougars in front by 11 with 11 minutes left.
The Cougars took a 51-31 lead on two free throws from Haws with two minutes remaining in the half, but the Broncos scored seven straight points to trim the big deficit just before halftime.
The Cougars made 19 of 21 free throws in the first half, while the Broncos went 9 for 9 from the line in the first 20 minutes, then just 4 of 10 in the second half.
In short: Tyler Haws scores 27 points and Eric Mika adds 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Cougars win their third straight.
Key moment: Haws scores 17 points in the first half.
Key stat: BYU wins the rebounding battle 50-32