The last Monday morning in January finds the BYU basketball team (5-4) in fourth place in the West Coast Conference standings, behind Gonzaga (8-1), Saint Mary’s (6-2) and San Francisco (6-3) , at the halfway mark of league play.
As my report in today’s newspaper points out, the Cougars have played half of their 18 WCC regular-season games already, but six of the nine were on the road. The schedule gets easier from here on out, with six home games and three on the road — at Saint Mary’s, Pacific and San Diego.
Gonzaga’s second half is just the opposite, with six of nine games on the road.
Generally, road games for BYU in the WCC aren’t really true road games, except at Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. Most places, the crowd is evenly split between BYU fans and the home-team fans. At the worst for BYU, they are 60-40 in favor of the home team.
Saturday’s 84-69 loss at Gonzaga, then, was BYU’s first true road conference game of the season. The sold-out crowd of 6,000 included only about 100 BYU fans, far as I could tell.
Obviously, the Cougars didn’t fare well in that environment. BYU has now lost its three WCC games at Gonzaga by 11, 20 and 15 points.
But Tyler Haws and Eric Mika both said they enjoyed it.
"I love playing in environments like this," Haws said. "I mean, it doesn’t get any better in college basketball than in something like that. They are fun places to play, and I thought we were up for the challenge. We just came up short."
It was Mika’s first taste of The Kennel. He won’t see it again until 2017, presumably, because he plans on being on an LDS Church mission the next two years.
"It was awesome. The fans were awesome. They were loud — one of the best atmospheres I have played in this year. Yeah, it is a cool place," Mika said. "Yeah, it did feel different [than the typical WCC venue]. It was kind of weird coming out of the tunnel and getting booed rather than having louder cheers for us than the other team."
Personally, I enjoyed the setting as well. GU's student section was thoroughly entertaining before the game and during timeouts, etc. But do they really have to play the music so loud? It was downright ear-splitting, at times. Then again, I'm getting old, I guess.
So the Cougars move on to Pacific this week (Thursday, 7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) hoping to right the ship after the two road losses at Portland and Gonzaga. The Tigers (2-6, 11-8) defeated Pepperdine 76-66 on Saturday at home, but are still in last place in the WCC in their first season in the league.
Pacific isn’t a slouch, however. The Tigers beat Utah State 78-68 at the Spectrum in December when the Aggies were at full strength, before Jarred Shaw’s suspension.
Here are a few leftover comments from Rose, Haws and Mika from Saturday’s notebook, stuff not used in my game story or follow:
Rose on how GU was able to free Kevin Pangos up for five 3-pointers in the second half:
"They spread the floor and they really drive the ball. They use their high ball screens with their bigs. But it is not just him. They spread the floor with four really good shooters. Any time you give any type of help on the ball screen, it starts a rotation where someone gets open. They move the ball really well, space the floor so well. Tough team to cover, especially when you got [Drew] Barham hitting threes, and [Gary] Bell hitting threes and Pangos hitting threes and [David] Stockton hitting threes. You just can’t afford to give help, and if you don’t give help then they carve you up driving it to the basket and getting it to the big guys. So it is a good team, a really good team."
Rose on whether they changed their attack after 3OT game Thursday:
"Yeah, we called a lot more sets in the half court. It was great for Eric. Eric got some great catches deep inside. It was good to see him really active. The 31 minutes he played tonight were really productive and that’s a good sign for us.
I thought that we controlled it a little bit more, as far as our half-court offense was concerned."
Haws on why the Cougars struggle so much to stop 3-pointers:
"First, it is just penetration. I mean, teams penetrate our zone and penetrate our man defense really well. We got to get better at keeping guys in front, so they can’t get easy kick-outs."
Haws on the energy level after the 3OT game:
"I don’t think it was an energy thing. I think it was more of just being mentally locked in and focusing on what needs to happen. I thought we had the legs and energy to get it done, but we just let it get away."
Haws on why he had words with GU’s Sam Dower and how Dower got away with shoving him:
"I knocked [Gary] Bell down. I tried to help him up. And then [Dower] came over and pushed me. He thought I said something to Bell. But it is fine. He was just kind of backing his guy up. But he was cool after. He said, ‘no hard feelings."
Eric Mika on the second half and whether they were getting tired:
"I don’t think so. I didn’t feel it. I felt a lot better today than I did Thursday. To be honest, I didn’t hear any of the other guys say it bothered them. So I don’t think that was the problem."
Mika on why Pangos was able to get free:
"They’ve got some really, really big guys that can give him good screens. That was a point of emphasis, that we had to be up there so he couldn’t come off screens and hit threes. He had a heckuva game. He got into the middle of our defense, and that kind of helped all their guys’ confidence. So they did what they wanted to do."
Mika on how BYU got so many offensive rebounds in first half:
"That is a point of emphasis every game. It is to crash the boards, and we were doing that the first half when our shots weren’t falling. Then in the second half I think, I am sure they went back to the locker room and said we need to keep these guys off the boards. So we were still crashing, but there were a lot of tipped balls. It wasn’t the same from the first to the second half, which we really needed."
Mika on going against GU’s 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski:
"I think I did alright. A lot of shots I didn’t convert on that I normally do. I got the ball stuck in the rim. That’s one of them. I don’t know how that happened. But he is so big and that’s hard to guard. He can just seal you down low. He’s long and he’s effective on the glass. It was fun playing against him."
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