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Dastrup’s spark in BYU’s win over Pacific begs the question: Why doesn’t he play more?

Third-place Cougars head to Loyola Marymount and Gonzaga this week for key WCC contests

Pacific Tigers center Namdi Okonkwo (24) blocks BYU forward Yoeli Childs (23) during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, in Provo, Utah. (Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP)

Provo • Midway through the first half of their eventual 80-65 win over Pacific on Saturday night, the BYU Cougars were in a bit of trouble. They had gone six straight possessions without scoring and trailed 20-12. The Marriott Center was dead quiet.

Dependable big man Yoeli Childs, who didn’t start due to illness, had a shot swatted by 7-footer Namdi Okonkwo. The Cougars were playing sluggishly and their crowd was lethargic and nervous that the Tigers were going to beat them again.

Enter seldom-used sophomore Payton Dastrup.

The 6-10 forward nailed a 3-pointer 18 seconds after checking in for Childs. Moments later, Dastrup drove to the rim for a basket and was fouled.

He missed the free throw, but the huge crowd of 16,456 was finally into it. The Cougars and Childs eventually got into an offensive rhythm to win their 18th game and improved to 7-3 in West Coast Conference play.

“Payton did a great job bringing energy to a team that was I think really needing that energy. Hit a big three. Great crowd, crowd got into it. Big-time move around the basket. Scored. Defensively, I thought he was pretty active,” coach Dave Rose said.

Dastrup missed his next two shots, stayed on the court the rest of the first half, then didn’t leave the bench in the second half. He finished with five points in 10 minutes. With Childs scoring 20 points after intermission, the Cougars outscored the Tigers 50-32 in the second half to win comfortably, all while the excitable Dastrup led cheers from the sidelines.

And the big mystery surrounding the 2017-18 season continues: Why doesn’t Dastrup play more?

“He is best defensively when we [play] zone [defense],” Rose said, when asked if Dastrup earned more playing time. “We don’t zone a lot. I think that he continues to improve. The one thing about Payton that is as good as anybody we’ve had is that he wants this team to win in the worst way. He contributes any way he can, with a lot of distractions.”

It is not clear what exactly those distractions are. Dastrup had a disappointing freshman season after a church mission to Panama because he was overweight and out of shape. That’s not a factor this year. He’s lost weight and doesn’t seem to get fatigued.

But Childs, Luke Worthington, Zac Seljaas and Dalton Nixon, now that he’s back from a foot injury, get the bulk of the minutes at the four and five spots. Seljaas, in a bit of a sophomore slump, played 17 minutes Saturday and did not attempt a shot. He got one rebound and committed four fouls and a turnover.

“Our bench, they saved us tonight,” Childs said. “Payton came in, just played great. Without that, who knows what happens. We are probably not going into the half down three. So it is huge when guys can come off the bench and make plays the way they do, and I am just proud of our guys. It is a team win. It is not about a single guy, even though [Elijah] was pretty dang good. It is about the team and every single guy came in and stepped up and played their role.”

Why Dastrup doesn’t have a bigger role is an enigma, a question Rose has been hesitant to answer. The coach rarely, if ever, publicly criticizes his players. He has hinted that Dastrup is not an adequate rim protector, and struggles to defend on the perimeter, making him somewhat of a defensive liability.

Dastrup is averaging 7.9 minutes per game, after averaging 4.3 last season. He is 9 of 17 from 3-point range and 26 of 44 from the field (59 percent).

Up next for the Cougars is a two-game road swing to Loyola Marymount on Thursday and Gonzaga on Saturday.

Thursday’s game<br>BYU at Loyola Marymount<br>Tipoff • 9 p.m. MST<br>TV • ATTSN

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