San Diego • Zac Seljaas and TJ Haws combined to score nine points in a stretch with just under six minutes to play to cut San Diego’s lead to five, and it appeared BYU was on the verge of another late-game comeback.
But Yoeli Childs was assessed his fifth foul while contesting Tyler Williams’ 3-point attempt with four minutes left, and Williams drained all three free throws. At the other end of the floor, Elijah Bryant missed an open 3-pointer to start a string of three straight empty possessions for the Cougars.
In a nutshell, that was the ballgame for BYU on Saturday afternoon.
Making 9 of 21 3-point shots and holding foul-plagued BYU to 3-of-22 shooting from beyond the arc, the Toreros broke out of their February malaise with a 75-62 win at Jenny Craig Pavilion.
“There are some positive things we can take out of the game, but I believe at the end of the day we are going to have to become a better executing defensive team when we are having a hard time making shots,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “That’s the key.”
The loss in which BYU led for just 30 seconds might end up costing the Cougars third place in the West Coast Conference race, with two games remaining. They dropped to 21-8 overall, 10-6 in league play, and will be tied for third with Pacific if the Tigers win at home against Santa Clara late Saturday. San Diego, which had lost four of its last five, improved to 17-11 and 8-8.
San Diego, now 4-3 against BYU at Jenny Craig Pavilion in WCC games, didn’t look anything like the club that lost to Pacific here Thursday. The Toreros took advantage of BYU’s early foul trouble to jump out to a 27-15 lead and held a cushion of five points or more the rest of the way.
So distressed were the Cougars by the constant whistles that it became almost comical, as Rose shuttled players in and out of the lineup early and often. For instance, BYU’s 6-foot Jashire Hardnett found himself guarding USD forwards Cameron Neubauer and Yauhen Massaslki at times. That was until Hardnett had to hit the bench with his second foul just six minutes into the contest.
“It really made it tough as far as matchups were concerned,” Rose said. “It made it hard for us to get the right guys in there. So we had Jahshire guarding a 6-8 wing, and that’s a tough matchup. We played a lot of zone and tried to help out our personnel.”
That zone started working in the second half, as the Cougars fought back from a 39-28 deficit at the break to cut it to five or six points several times. But each time the Toreros had an answer, both from the free-throw and 3-point line. Twenty-five fouls were called on BYU, 18 on San Diego.
“It was frustrating,” said TJ Haws, who had 14 points on 3-of-9 shooting. “We had a few calls that were very questionable. But you can’t really focus on that. We have to control what we can control, and we didn’t do that tonight.”Bryant went 2 of 10 from 3-point range and tied Haws for team-high scoring honors. Seljaas broke out of a mild slump with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“We just didn’t have that first punch that we have had,” Seljaas said. “We started out slow and weren’t able to catch up. With a good team like San Diego, you can’t let them get ahead like that at the start.”
Childs played just 22 minutes before fouling out with 3:57 remaining and had just eight points, tying his season low, which came way back on Nov. 15 at Princeton. That ended Childs’ 26-game streak of double-digit scoring.
“We missed some open shots early and it hurt us on the defensive end because we were just a bit slow,” Rose said. “We needed to get some energy from some makes, and we had a hard time doing that.”