San Diego • A piece of the West Coast Conference regular-season championship is no longer available for the BYU Cougars when they play at San Diego on Saturday afternoon in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Gonzaga wrapped up the title with a surprisingly easy 70-53 win at Pacific on Thursday.
But there’s still a lot at stake, an awful lot, for BYU in the 2 p.m. tipoff (Root Sports) at Jenny Craig Pavilion.
Most notably, the Cougars (12-5 WCC, 20-10) are squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and bracket experts such as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi are saying they not only have to beat the Toreros (7-10, 16-14) on Saturday, but also perhaps win a couple conference tournament games, to make the big dance.
A loss at JCP would be disastrous to BYU’s at-large chances, but neither the Cougars nor their coach would acknowledge that after Wednesday’s practice in Provo.
“I think [the stakes] are high every year,” star guard Tyler Haws said. “I don’t think they are any higher this year than last year.”
Also on the line is seeding for the WCC tournament, which begins Thursday in Las Vegas. The Cougars will get the No. 2 seed with a win. If they lose and San Francisco (12-5) wins at last-place Loyola Marymount on Saturday, the Dons will get the No. 2 seed and BYU the third seed.
Whatever happens, the top six seeds will have first-round byes and won’t play until Saturday’s quarterfinals at the Orleans Arena.
BYU guard Anson Winder, who will make his third straight start and will likely get the assignment of guarding USD sharpshooter Johnny Dee when the Cougars are in man-to-man defense, said momentum is also at stake.
“We are on a [three-game] winning streak right now and we are riding a nice wave, so that momentum going into the tournament is what we want to keep,” Winder said.
It won’t be easy.
Despite routing the Toreros 87-53 nearly two months ago in Provo, the Cougars say USD is a dangerous team, especially at home. The Toreros knocked off Gonzaga 69-66 last week, thanks in part to a 33-11 advantage at the free-throw line, and beat BYU twice last year, 74-68 at home and then 72-69 in the WCC tournament.
“The challenge is that obviously that is a really good defensive team,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “They are a great 3-point shooting team by percentage, and they got two of the best 3-point shooters in the league on their team. And those are things that have caused us problems.”
BYU at San Diego
O At Jenny Craig Pavilion
Tipoff • Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV • Root Sports. Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 20-10 (12-5); San Diego 16-14 (7-10)
Series history • BYU leads, 7-2
Last meeting • BYU 87, San Diego 53 (Jan. 4)
About the Toreros • Coach Bill Grier is 100-125 in his seventh season at the helm. … They are coming off a 69-66 win over Gonzaga last Saturday at JCP. … They are 9-6 at home this season. … Guards Johnny Dee (16.1 ppg.) and Duda Sanadze (14.3 ppg.) lead them in scoring.
About the Cougars • They can wrap up the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament with a win against the Toreros, who beat them twice last season. … G Tyler Haws needs 12 points to pass Fred Roberts for sixth on the school’s career scoring list. … G Skyler Halford, who has been coming off the bench, scored a career-high 28 points in the 34-point win in Provo over San Diego.