Provo • After the Cougars fizzled in the second half and lost 79-65 to No. 6 Gonzaga Saturday night, BYU assistant coach Tim LaComb joked that when he’s playing video games and things go badly, he simply hits re-set.
“Unfortunately, no re-set button here,” he said, summarizing how BYU went a somewhat disappointing 11-7 in West Coast Conference play, including a 4-4 mark in February.
Despite posting the most league losses ever since joining the West Coast Conference seven seasons ago, the Cougars finished exactly where they were picked — third — in the preseason coaches poll, LaComb noted.
Left unsaid by the ever-positive assistant coach who was filling in for ailing head coach Dave Rose is that they finished five games out of second place after going 0-4 against Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s and losing those four games by a combined 45 points.
BYU (22-9 overall) was picked to finish third “by the people that are in the league and kinda understand what is going on,” LaComb said. “Obviously, they didn’t have any idea that we would be missing a couple key players.”
Still, the Cougars went 11-2 in nonconference play, with a rousing 77-65 home win over Utah, and big road victories at Utah Valley, Princeton and Utah State. That was without all-conference guard Nick Emery and injured big men Ryan Andrus and Braiden Shaw and partially without sixth-man Dalton Nixon, who returned in January from a foot injury.
Seemingly, they had recovered nicely from Eric Mika’s decision to turn pro, Emery’s late withdrawal from school amid an NCAA investigation into receiving improper benefits from a booster, and the rash of injuries.
It appeared this season would be different than the six previous in the WCC when they took SMC to overtime Dec. 30 and then drubbed San Francisco on the road to start the new year. They finished January with a 6-2 league record, 17-4 overall, and avenged a one-point loss at Pacific with an 80-65 thumping in Provo.
But they have digressed in February, rare for a Rose-coached team, and limp into this weekend’s WCC tournament in Las Vegas with no momentum, little confidence and even less depth.
They have looked like a worn-down team, physically and mentally, since the 76-69 loss at Loyola Marymount to start the month.
In the nine conference game rematches, only the big home win over Pacific was an improvement on the scoreboard for the Cougars. A lot of WCC teams have “figured us out,” Rose said two weeks ago.
For instance, they managed to give the Zags a better game in Spokane, a 68-60 loss that was a tie game with less than three minutes to play, than they did in Provo on Saturday.
Another tough draw awaits them in the tournament too. They will face the same San Diego team that roughed them up 75-62 two weeks prior in San Diego.
The Toreros (18-12) won at San Francisco 64-61 Saturday night after giving Gonzaga all it wanted Thursday night and tied for fourth place with the Dons and Pacific. But USD got the sixth seed based on tiebreakers.
LaComb said they will take memories of the “competitive toughness” they displayed in Thursday’s 72-60 win at Portland and the “real good competitive edge” they had in spurts against the champion Zags and try to “do some damage” in Las Vegas knowing they have to win the whole thing to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the third-straight year.
“Here we go. You just kinda start playing survive and advance,” he said. “It is a fun time of year, for sure. We worked all year long to put ourselves into position for this, so hopefully we can go make some noise.”
Because the re-set button doesn’t work in March.
WCC Men’s Basketball Tournament
At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Friday’s First-Round Games
No. 8 Loyola Marymount vs. No. 9 Portland, 7 p.m.
No. 7 Santa Clara vs. No. 10 Pepperdine, 9 p.m.
Saturday’s Quarterfinal Games
No. 3 BYU vs. No. 6 San Diego, 2 p.m.
No. 4 Pacific vs. No. 5 San Francisco, 4 p.m.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. Loyola Marymount-Portland winner, 8 p.m.
No. 2 Saint Mary’s vs. Santa Clara-Pepperdine winner, 10 p.m.
Note: All times are MST