Provo • Just when it appeared BYU was going to have a better, more-focused and consistent men’s basketball team this season — one that didn’t lose to lower-tier West Coast Conference opponents — Saturday’s clunker against Pacific happened at Spanos Center in Stockton, Calif.
The Cougars played miserably in the latter half of the first half to fall behind by seven points, but rallied in the second half to take a couple of four-point leads. They couldn’t hold them, however, and then were outplayed in the final three minutes in a 67-66 loss.
Sophomore guard Zac Seljaas stole a pass in the final seconds after Jahshire Hardnett’s high-arcing shot was off-target, but his successful shot was a split-second late and the 7-10 Tigers celebrated “like they won the Super Bowl, or something,” in the words of junior guard Elijah Bryant.
“We just weren’t playing as a team,” Bryant said, summing up the Cougars’ second close WCC loss, a week after BYU was on the short end of an overtime defeat at the hands of Saint Mary’s. “It was pretty obvious. We were all trying to do it by ourselves and it didn’t get us a win.”
Bryant, who led all scorers with 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting, inexplicably didn’t get the final shot for the potential game-winner for the second straight Saturday. He was visibly frustrated after the loss, along with head coach Dave Rose.
“You put yourselves in those situations [needing a game-winning shot] and it is not guaranteed that you are going to be able to make that play late in the game,” Rose said. “It is two really close league losses we gotta be able to respond from.”
The Cougars had moved into the top 60 in most power ratings after handling a San Francisco team Thursday that was, on paper, much better than Pacific. But they reverted back to the Cougars of last year against the Tigers, especially in the first half.
With a crowd composed mostly of BYU fans behind them, the Cougars got impatient on offense in the first half and complacent on defense. Rose said they stopped swinging the ball from side to side, took quick shots and then let their frustration spill over to the defensive end.
“Defensively, we turned them on, let them get going. Emotions are a big part of this game, and it is hard to shut them down,” Rose said. “I thought the second half we responded pretty well. But it came down to the last play, and we couldn’t make it.”
Rose talked before the road trip about the need for more balanced scoring, perhaps finding a third double-digit scorer to complement Bryant and Childs. But that didn’t happen, despite a solid nine-point effort from center Luke Worthington.
In particular, sophomore guard TJ Haws is struggling again. The preseason all-conference pick is 10 of 33 in his last four games, and was just 3 of 10 against Pacific. He drilled a 3-pointer in the second half, but an off-the-ball foul on Worthington erased the points.
Those kinds of mistakes proved costly.
“We just have to gather what we learned from this game and take it forward and take in all the positives and learn from the negatives and be able to do better the next game,” Seljaas said.
Pepperdine at BYU, 7 p.m.