By Jay Drew
| The Salt Lake Tribune
Provo • Some have called it Delly’s Dagger. Others refer to it as the Dellavedagger, the Hail Mary, or even the Hell from Saint Mary’s.
Of all the different ways that buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the hands of Saint Mary’s point guard Matthew Dellavedova exactly a month ago can be described, one thing seems clear: It ripped the heart out of the BYU Cougars, perhaps even gutted their once-promising season.
Coach Dave Rose’s team simply has not been the same since blowing a big lead and losing 70-69 to the Gaels at the Marriott Center on Jan. 16. The loss not only halted a six-game winning streak, but ushered in a 4-4 stretch for BYU, which has had this past week to lick its wounds and try to recover.
The Cougars (18-8, 8-4 WCC) return to action on Saturday night against 10-17 Portland at the Marriott Center, hoping that last week’s 99-87 home loss to subpar San Francisco marked rock bottom and that they can recapture the momentum they had after drilling Santa Clara 82-64 on the road on Jan. 12.
Although the Pilots (10-17, 3-9 WCC) showed they are capable of springing an upset with Thursday’s 78-76 win at San Francisco, the first real chance to see if the Cougars have the moxie and talent to right their listing season probably comes next week when they face Utah State at home on Tuesday and the Gaels in Moraga, Calif., on Thursday.
Rose acknowledged earlier this week that as of now, BYU is a bona fide candidate for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and that its hopes of making it to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight year probably rest on winning the WCC Tournament next month in Las Vegas. But with No. 3 Gonzaga (24-2) looking unbeatable, prospects of that are just as dim.
The most puzzling aspect of the Cougars’ midseason downturn is that they’ve shown flashes of brilliance, like when they crushed Virginia Tech at EnergySolutions Arena or 18-8 Santa Clara at the Leavey Center.
"Our [lack of] execution consistently is basically our biggest issue," Rose said, "because we have played well enough in spurts during games to not get beat twice in a week. But we have had some flat spots that we have to work through."
Rose said he and his staff looked at personnel, offensive and defensive adjustments, and even preparation tactics the past few days in an attempt to figure out what has gone wrong.
One apparent problem is that the Cougars are not as deep as they believed they would be, forcing Rose to use stars Tyler Haws, Brandon Davies and Matt Carlino more than he wants to early in games at the risk of not having them fresh during crunch time.
The junior college transfers — Raul Delgado and Agustin Ambrosino — and freshmen Ian Harward and Cory Calvert have not proven to be capable backups. Those four have combined to score just 25 points in WCC play, mostly due to a lack of minutes and trust from the coaching staff.
"I think that we would like to [use more players]. OK? But I don’t know if you can really commit to expanding the depth of your team until you get a feel for how guys are playing," Rose said. "But I do believe that the break has been good for us. We practiced a lot of different combinations that we kind of got away from because of the rhythm that we were in. … The last two or three days, we have looked at a lot of different things."
That football player Bronson Kaufusi is getting more playing time than scholarship guys such as Harward and Ambrosino speaks volumes. At this point, it appears that Rose whiffed on his attempts to upgrade his team’s talent level in the offseason, although he said Thursday that he still "likes" this team.
"For whatever reason, last week we had a setback," Rose said. "Now we will see how guys respond. Sometimes adversity can strengthen your team if everybody approaches it right and has the right attitude."