Provo • They’ve exorcised some road demons, found a way to win basketball games when Tyler Haws isn’t making shots, defeated the best team in the league and discovered some depth along the way that can only help them in March.
Suffice it to say, the BYU Cougars are feeling pretty good about themselves right now, that awful start to the West Coast Conference season in late December when they lost at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine a distant memory.
“I feel like we’ve grown a lot. I feel like we are having the most fun at this point in the year, which is really important because I mean sometimes it feels like a grind this late in the year. But for us, I feel like we are really clicking, having a lot of fun, playing together, so that’s really important,” junior guard Matt Carlino said Saturday night after the Cougars kept their grip on second place in the WCC and kept their hopes alive for a piece of the league title with an 89-72 win over Portland in front of 17,842 at the Marriott Center.
The Cougars (12-5, 20-10) even have a bit of time to savor their stellar play of late, because they have a midweek bye and don’t play again until Saturday, a 2 p.m. MST regular-season finale at San Diego (7-10, 16-14). The Toreros knocked off Gonzaga 69-66 at home on Saturday night, which was a mixed blessing for BYU.
It means BYU can still get a piece of the championship if it beats San Diego and the Zags lose at Pacific and Saint Mary’s this week. But it also means Thursday’s 73-65 win against a nationally respected program takes a hit.
And so much for the notion that San Diego will be an easy game, after the Cougars walloped the Toreros by 34 points, 87-53, in Provo in early January. San Diego got 33 free throws at home Saturday night, while No. 25 Gonzaga got just 11 and lost despite shooting 50 percent.
“So we will take this momentum, and hopefully it will help us at San Diego,” Rose said Saturday. “It was a tough road trip for us last year down there [a 74-68 loss]. Hopefully we can go down there and play well.”
Rose said the Cougars will take the first few days this week to work on themselves, study tape of their recent wins over Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and Portland to provide positive reinforcement, and analyze what they can do better moving forward. They also hope Kyle Collinsworth [knee bruise] and Luke Worthington [AC separation in shoulder] will get healthier.
“A Thursday bye should help us, as far as our bodies and how we feel. But this game on Saturday against San Diego will be a battle,” Rose said. “We have played these guys four or five times in the last couple of years, and they were all battles.”
BYU at San Diego, 2 p.m. MST
TV: Root Sports