They ran all over Stanford, grinded their way past Texas, almost upset No. 13 Iowa State, stayed with No. 8 Wichita State until the final minutes and took No. 10 Oregon to overtime on the Ducks’ own floor.
Throw out that blowout loss at Utah, and it was a mostly positive nonconference run for the BYU basketball team in November and the majority of December.
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But all those good feelings and holiday cheer evaporated in the Los Angeles area over the weekend. The Cougars (0-2,8-7) fell hard to a pair of supposed lower-tier West Coast Conference teams, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine.
What has happened to coach Dave Rose’s team?
"That’s something we would like to know," said reserve forward Josh Sharp.
The Cougars didn’t just lose to the Lions (2-0, 10-4) and Waves (2-0,9-5), they lost badly — save a late comeback against Pepperdine that showed the team still has some fight in it, but can’t make the free throws and clutch plays down the stretch when it really needs to have them.
These weren’t fluky, last-second losses. The Cougars had the lead for only 52 seconds in Saturday’s 87-76 loss at LMU and for just 43 seconds in Monday’s 80-74 loss at Pepperdine.
That’s it. They trailed LMU by as many as 21 points and Pepperdine by as many as 13.
"Right now, their confidence is obviously down," said Rose.
That’s the easy explanation, but even Rose acknowledges there is a lot more to it than that.
"We have got a lot of issues," he said after the LMU loss.
Team chemistry is one of those things that is difficult to quantify, but the Cougars seem to suddenly lack it, after talking in October about their heightened sense of togetherness with no seniors on the roster.
They had just 28 assists on 55 field goals on the road trip.
Forced into halfcourt games — which is not their strength — by conference foes who obviously had them well-scouted, the Cougars have been relying too much on individual play and not enough on teamwork. Rose preaches giving up a good shot for a better one, but the Cougars rushed too much over the weekend.
Shot selection was suspect, but Rose said Monday night he wasn’t displeased with any of the 11 3-pointers the Cougars attempted against Pepperdine. They made one, by Anson Winder with 23 seconds remaining, to extend their streak of having made at least one 3-pointer in a game to 561 games.
That’s another issue. The Cougars were outscored 63-12 from the 3-point line and attempted 21 treys in the two games, while their opponents took 41.
In 15 games, BYU has attempted 216 3-pointers and watched foes throw up 381.
"We need more consistent good play from more players," Rose said. "We keep getting our big guys in foul trouble, so we’re juggling those things back and forth. Those are all issues we need to get home and practice [for] and get some confidence."
The Cougars’ next three games are at the Marriott Center, beginning Saturday (7 p.m., BYUtv) against San Diego. The Toreros, BYU’s travel partner, also lost to Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount on Saturday and Monday.
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