BYU will face San Diego in WCC quarters after Toreros blast Pepperdine Thursday night
Well, that's set. The Cougars will play San Diego on Friday night (9 p.m. MST, ESPNU) in a WCC quarterfinal after the Toreros blew past Pepperdine 76-54 on Thursday night at Orleans Arena. The Toreros shot the ball well early they were 6-for-7 from 3-point range at one point late in the first half in winning the sixth-seventh place game. Johnny Dee had a career-high 30 update points for USD. The Cougars swept San Diego in the season series, beating the Toreros 88-52 on New Year's Eve in Provo and 82-63 on Jan. 16 in San Diego. Dee had two points in Provo and 12 in San Diego. The game in San Diego was actually closer than the final score indicates. A big 3-pointer by Brock Zylstra just before the first half ended reversed the momentum, and the Cougars slowly increased their lead in the second half. San Diego has some zone-busters that can give the Cougars trouble Dee and backcourt mate Chris Anderson can fill it up from the outside if they're left open, although Anderson was 0-for-2 from deep on Thursday night. Thursday night's game was played in front of about 1,500 fans at 7,500-seat Orleans Arena. In other words, it was pretty quiet in here. Asked about not knowing who BYU would play until less than 24 hours before the tip, coach Dave Rose said the Cougars prepared for both, and were aided by the fact that they played both teams twice in the regular season. It's not like the Cougars are going into the game staring down a team of mystery, as they did in November against Wisconsin at the Chicago Invitational. "We have been back through the last four or five weeks of their games, and just working on concepts," Rose said. "We have spent a lot of time on ourselves. We have spent a lot of time with lineups in practice. Without Noah [Hartsock] in practice, we have had three or four different lineups we have been working with, and ways we will play offense with those lineups, and ways that we will play defense with those lineups. So that time has been useful for us." BYU will surely have more fans here Friday night than San Diego will, but several longtime observers of this tournament here in Las Vegas say if the Cougars advance to Saturday night's semifinals, Gonzaga will have just as many supporters, if not more. Zags fans will be here in force for the weekend, I'm told. But as any BYU fans knows, nothing could be as bad as having to face UNLV on its home floor, as the Cougars did several times in the MWC tournament over at Thomas & Mack Center. "I think the majority of the games we played in the Mountain West Conference tournament were neutral floor games. We seem to run into a homecourt [team] every once in a while," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "I think that this tournament time is exciting. It is an exciting time. As a coaching staff, we are familiar with the Orleans [Arena]. We have been there a couple times for other tournaments, and this is another new experience for our group. It feels really similar. We are going to Vegas, but we are going to a different facility, playing a different group of teams. And the format is way different, the bracketing format is different. We will just rely on our guys. Our guys have been really good so far this year, facing challenges we have been through. Hopefully, we will be up for the week." Nothing new to report on Noah Hartsock's status he is still considered a game-time decision but if the senior can't go, the Cougars will start three freshmen Matt Carlino, Anson Winder and Nate Austin. And another freshman, Josh Sharp, will see significant time off the bench, along with, perhaps, Damarcus Harrison. Winder promises to have a big contingent of fans in his corner Friday night, having prepped at nearby Bishop Gorman High here in Las Vegas. "It is a good thing that they have made a real positive impact, because they have played a lot," Rose said of the five freshmen who have contributed. "It is interesting to me, because I go through that group of guys, and there are freshmen from all different places. We have a high school freshman, right out of high school here (Harrison). And then we have a freshman who has practiced with us for a year (Carlino) and a freshman who practiced in another program and then transferred after a mission (Sharp), and then two freshmen who went on their missions before they played (Austin and Sharp). But they are all first-year guys, but they have all really helped us at one time or another. Hopefully they will continue to play well. You look at the 10 players who have played the most minutes, the last six weeks, and six of them are first-year guys. So for us to be good, we need those first-year guys to come through for us." With Hartsock not playing last Saturday in the home finale against Portland, Brock Zylstra played at the four (power forward) quite a bit, and shot the ball well for the first time in quite awhile. Look for the Cougars to employ a similar strategy Friday night. "I think that we have used that four spot as a perimeter shooter for quite a while," Rose said, " J.T. [Tavernari] was a four-year guy who did it. Fernando [Malaman] came in here when we started, and we played Fernando at the four and he could really stretch the defense. Keena [Young] took that spot over, and [outside shooting] wasn't his strength. We used Stephen [Rogers] last year in that spot, and Logan [Magnusson] as well. There is a part of some of these experienced guys that are real comfortable with us stretching that four man. Brock was terrific the other day in the game, in such a real short turnaround. The practice that we have had here have made him feel a little more comfortable. The one thing that is pleasing to me with Brock is that he has fully recovered from that ankle that slowed him for about three weeks. And it is a good thing, because we need him. He played 37 minutes the other night and was really good in those minutes."