Provo • Sophomore guard Tyler Haws summed up his feelings rather succinctly late Thursday outside the locker room at McKeon Pavilion after the Cougars fell 64-57 to Saint Mary's in a key West Coast Conference clash.
"It hurts, losing," Haws said.
However, aside from pride, the loss didn't hurt the Cougars (20-9, 9-5 WCC) in the overall scheme of things that much, because they didn't lose their standing as the third-place team in the league. The two teams directly behind them in the standings, Santa Clara (7-6) and San Diego (6-7), also lost this week.
So regardless of what happens Thursday night in Provo against No. 3-ranked Gonzaga, or next Saturday at last-place Loyola Marymount, BYU, which has a bye this weekend, is probably going to be the No. 3 seed for the conference tournament. For the Cougars to slide to fourth, they would have to get swept next week and Santa Clara would have to win at Portland, at home against LMU and at Saint Mary's.
San Diego still has a mathematical chance of moving into the No. 3 seed as well, but that would require a win at Gonzaga on Saturday, for a program that has lost three straight games since upsetting BYU on Feb. 7. Highly unlikely.
Sure, a win at SMC might have thrust BYU back into the at-large picture for an NCAA Tournament bid, but that alone might not have done the trick, most bracketing experts agree.
So it appears BYU once again will play in the 9:30 p.m. MST quarterfinal on March 8 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas against the winner of a second-round game from the day before. That game would pit No. 6 San Francisco (5-9) against No. 7 Pepperdine (4-9) if the season ended today, but could easily change given how eighth-place Portland (4-10) is surging.
If a theme emerged from Haws, coach Dave Rose and senior forward Brandon Davies (25 points) after Thursday's loss in which the Cougars failed to rebound or take care of the ball well enough in the second half to win, it was that they would love another shot at the 23-5 Gaels.
"There are a lot of things we can obviously shore up and [do] better, but the guys fought hard and had us right there," Rose said. "We were right there ready to win it, and it was tough. A couple tough calls don't go our way, and then they made some tough plays, made some big plays."
Along with losing the battle of the boards 19-11 in the second half and giving up 13 offensive rebounds that resulted in nine second-chance points for the Gaels, the Cougars lamented the way they gave up points when the shot clock was running out on Saint Mary's.
"They hit some tough shots late in the shot clock," Haws said. "They make you play defense for 35 seconds. At times, I thought we did a good job. At other times, they made tough buckets."
Can the Gaels do that again in Las Vegas? The Cougars would love to find out.
Gonzaga at BYU
O Thursday, 9 p.m.
TV • ESPN2