Tough to believe after those two January home losses, but the BYU Cougars are back in the thick of the WCC men's basketball race.
The Cougars' 82-67 win over three-point-loving Santa Clara, coupled with Gonzaga's last-second loss at San Francisco, means both teams are now 11-3 and tied for second place in the WCC behind 12-2 St. Mary's (which lost its BracketBuster game at Murray State on Saturday night.
Of course, BYU travels to Gonzaga on Thursday for a huge showdown in Spokane. Winner still has a shot at a piece of the WCC title (if St. Mary's loses at, say, San Francisco).
For BYU, all eyes this week will be on Noah Hartsock's knee, after the Cougars' leading scorer did something to it against the Broncos. They are hoping it is just a strain, but Hartsock said it was "really sore" after the game.
Coach Dave Rose called it a "good team win" and a "hardfought win" for the Cougars, now 23-6 and looking more and more like an NCAA Tournament team. Certainly, a win at Gonzaga on Thursday will solidify that standing. A loss, and it is back to the bubble, most likely.
Couple of odds and ends from the game:
* Charles Abouo finished with 14 points, after scoring just two points in the first half. He also had eight rebounds and four assists.
* Brock Zylstra nailed a couple of big 3-pointers (Anson Winder hit the only other BYU 3-pointer) and finished with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He also grabbed five rebounds.
* Brandon Davies reached double figures in scoring for the 23rd time this season. He's scored in double figures in 16 of his last 17 games.
* The Cougars assisted on 23 of their 31 baskets (74.2 percent).
* Thanks to 14 fastbreak points, the Cougars shot 31 of 53 from the field. It was their best shooting percentage (58.5 percent) of the season.
A few more postgame comments from coach Dave Rose:
On the way BYU put Santa Clara away in the last 10 minutes:
"I think it is really important, how you close out games. ... the other night, we weren't as good at it. But we were able to get a win.
Tonight, we were really good between the 12 minute mark and the six-minute mark.
We were getting baskets, executing, and getting good shots. They were rebounding, sending so many guys to the glass, that if you can clear that ball, you can score in transition. I think that really happened."
On holding Santa Clara to five 3-pointers:
"We have played a lot of zone this year, but we decided we would have to spend a lot of the game playing man to man because of how good they are from the 3-point line. They rely so much on it. They got off 17 threes and made five of them. That's gotta be somewhere close to their season-low.
So I was pleased, I was pretty proud of how our guys [defended] threes."
On Noah Hartsock going down and whether he will be OK:
"When I went out there and saw him, he was pretty scared, and the way that he came down funny. You know, he's still not out of the woods. ... We will see how it is tomorrow. History will tell you that it will probably be pretty sore tomorrow."
On Matt Carlino's knee:
"Well, actually it is the same thing, it is an MCL [injury]. Hopefully, Matt's is just a strain. It was really sore yesterday. Kind of felt a little bit better today. So he will have the day off tomorrow. But I was really proud of the gutty effort from him.
He went out there and played I think 22 minutes, had seven assists, something like that. ... He really spread the ball around for us, really triggered our transition scores in the second half.
I was really proud of those guys."
On Nate Austin's contribution:
"Nate gave us great minutes. Defensively, he gave us great minutes. Offensively, he is a real opportunity scorer. He hit two big free throws tonight when they tried to call him out. .. "
On Nate Austin's baseline shot:
"That's a hard shot to stop, because he's so long, and he shoots it so high. I think that coach probably wanted him to walk through him a little more. That's how they defend."
On the week ahead:
"The best thing about it is we are right in the race. That's what you want, when you are playing the last week of the regular season, you want to be in the conference race ... and this team is right there."
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