Las Vegas • Two weeks after ice-cold shooting and foul trouble doomed them to an embarrassing 75-62 loss to San Diego at Jenny Craig Pavilion, the BYU Cougars will get another shot at the Toreros on Saturday afternoon at Orleans Arena.
But the stakes are much higher this time around.
The West Coast Conference men’s quarterfinal pitting third-seeded BYU and sixth-seeded San Diego, which tips off at 2 p.m. MST, represents a chance for redemption for the Cougars (22-9) after that humiliating loss to a team they defeated 74-58 in January at the Marriott Center. For the Toreros (18-12), it is an opportunity to show that Feb. 17 beatdown wasn’t a fluke and to also show they can play well without head coach Lamont Smith on the sidelines.
Smith was arrested Sunday on suspicion of domestic abuse charges and placed on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the season. Former Torero Sam Scholl will be the acting head coach.
How will the Toreros respond?
“They are a great team, and they have great [assistant] coaches over there,” BYU guard Elijah Bryant said. “Regardless of who is coaching them, they will come out and play really hard. As you know, they beat us at their place, so we are expecting a great battle from those guys.”
The winner of the rubber match will move on to the semifinals Monday, probably against Saint Mary’s. The Toreros haven’t played in a WCC semifinal since 2013 when they upset BYU as a No. 6 seed. That was also the last time BYU failed to win a quarterfinal game in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have the game as a pick ’em.
“We just need to come out with a better start and give our opponent more credit and be ready to play,” Bryant said.
Bryant was 4 of 14 in that game, including 2 of 10 from 3-point range as the Cougars went 3 of 22 combined from deep. Twenty-five fouls were called on BYU, a season-high.
“The two teams are pretty well matched,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “The games have been really competitive. The unique challenge at this time of year is to get your guys playing the best that they can, execute the best that they can. You realize that with San Diego the unique challenge is their depth and how physical they are.”
Rose said he hasn’t mentioned USD’s coaching situation to his team and won’t focus on it at all. After Pepperdine played passionately and with fire after the dismissal of coach Marty Wilson was announced two days before the Waves hosted BYU, Rose expects the same effort from the Toreros.
“Hopefully our guys are dialed in on the challenge of trying to beat this team and aren’t really worried about all the other things that are going on,” he said.
A bright spot in the loss at San Diego was 11 points from sixth-man Zac Seljaas, and Rose said the Cougars will need another boost from its bench. San Diego “surprised us” by not starting two of its three leading scorers — Isaiah Piniero and Isaiah Wright — in the win, Rose acknowledged. The Isaiahs combined for 31 points off the bench and stayed out of foul trouble while BYU big man Yoeli Childs got in early foul trouble and played just 22 minutes.
“We gotta come out and throw that first punch,” Childs said. “They kinda threw that first punch and had us playing on our heels and we were trying to get back in it for the rest of the game.”
Knowing that BYU has to defeat San Diego and then possibly No. 22 Saint Mary’s and No. 7 Gonzaga, the website KenPom.com gives BYU a five percent chance to win the tournament. As BYU fans are well aware, the Cougars haven’t won a conference tournament title since 2001 — four years before Rose took over as head coach.
“Winning a tournament is hard,” Rose said. “All the games are hard, but that first game is really tough, because you are dealing with a new emotion that maybe hasn’t been there in the last two weeks of the season.”
BYU VS. SAN DIEGO
At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Tipoff • Saturday, 2 p.m. MST
TV • ATTSN, BYUtv
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 22-9, San Diego 18-12
Series history • BYU leads, 13-5
Last meeting • San Diego 75, BYU 62 (Feb. 17).
About the Toreros • They named three-year assistant Sam Scholl acting head coach on Monday in place of Lamont Smith, who is on paid administrative leave. … They have defeated BYU in two of their last four meetings. In their 75-62 win over BYU two weeks ago, Isaiah Wright and Isaiah Pineiro came off the bench and combined for 31 points. … A former Utah player, Wright is averaging 13.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.Pineiro is an all-WCC First Team selection.
About the Cougars • They are 7-6 in WCC tournament games and have won their last four quarterfinal games in the tournament. … They are 5-5 in their last 10 games. … Sophomore forward Yoeli Childs is averaging 17.4points and 8.7 rebounds per game and has had 14 double-doubles. … Junior guard Elijah Bryant has made a 3-pointer in 30 of 31 games and two or more 3-pointers in 23 games.