It was one of those trap games that college basketball coaches fear in late February.
But the BYU Cougars didn’t get caught.
Elijah Bryant and Yoeli Childs scored 15 points apiece and Dalton Nixon added 14 off the bench as the Cougars took a 72-60 win over lowly Portland at Chiles Center on Thursday night to clinch the third seed in next week’s West Coast Conference tournament.
Childs scored all 15 of his points in the first half and played sparingly in the second half. TJ Haws added 10, but tweaked an ankle driving to the hoop late in the game. He returned and hit a big 3-pointer with just over two minutes remaining to seal the victory.
With a showdown with No. 6 Gonzaga looming Saturday at the Marriott Center, the Cougars didn’t look past the Pilots, who have given them trouble in Portland in the past. Despite scoring lulls in both halves, BYU defeated Portland for the fifth-straight time and is now 18-2 all-time against the Pilots.
BYU improved to 11-6 in WCC play, 22-8 overall, and will finish alone in third in the regular season regardless of what happens against the Zags because fourth-place Pacific lost at home to San Francisco. Portland fell to 4-13 and 10-20.
The Cougars were sailing along with a 50-32 lead five minutes into the second half, then started taking ill-advised shots and got careless with the basketball.
Portland went on a 9-0 run and forced five straight empty possessions to get the deficit back to single digits with just more than 12 minutes remaining.
Luke Worthington ended the uprising and BYU’s three-plus minute scoring drought with with his first basket of the game, and Portland got no closer than nine the rest of the way.
After going 3 of 22 from 3-point range in Saturday’s loss at San Diego, the Cougars made their first three 3-pointers to match the total in their previous game and rolled out to a 24-13 lead midway through the first half.
Then they missed their next seven 3-pointers, and the Pilots closed the gap.
BYU went inside to Childs, and he delivered a couple quick baskets to get the offense clicking again. He was 7 of 8 in the first half, his only miss a 3-pointer. He missed all three shots he took in the second half before going to the bench with the 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Nixon gave BYU a lift off the bench with a pair of triples in the first half, and the Cougars had a 42-28 lead at the break.
As coach Dave Rose expected, the Pilots face-guarded Bryant the entire first half, holding BYU’s leading scorer to eight points in the first 20 minutes.
The Cougars shot 50 percent in the first half, and held Portland to 34 percent. After the hot start and shaky middle stretch, the Cougars finished the first half 5 of 13 from 3-point range.
BYU had just two turnovers in the first half and committed just five fouls after being whistled for 25 fouls at San Diego.
Marcus Shaver led Portland with 21 points.