Moraga, Calif. • Despite blowing a 21-point lead from the first half and needing Pacific to miss some last-minute free throws, the BYU Cougars were feeling pretty good about themselves after knocking off the Tigers 90-87 Thursday night at Spanos Center.
Then Saturday happened at their usual House of Horrors — tiny but raucous McKeon Pavilion on the campus of Saint Mary’s College. And now the Cougars (9-8) are once again just fighting to stay above .500 as they return to the Marriott Center on Thursday for their first home game in nearly a month.
The Gaels, who haven’t been all that impressive either, took the Cougars to the woodshed in the second half and ran away with an 88-66 victory, their seventh win over BYU in the past eight games in Moraga. Aside from last year’s 85-72 loss in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals, Saint Mary’s always finds a way to make BYU look bad.
Then again, that’s happening a lot this year — to an array of opponents.
It was evident from BYU’s body language in the last few minutes and from Dave Rose’s postgame comments that the team lacks confidence, leadership and a take-charge guy, especially on the road. The head coach is normally angry and terse after losses, but Saturday night in the basement under McKeon he almost seemed resigned to losing more games this season than he has in 14 years at the helm.
The most games Rose has lost in a single season is 12 — in 2013, 2014 and 2017 — a futility mark that certainly looks inescapable given the makeup of this team, perhaps his least-talented since he took over for Steve Cleveland in 2005.
Rose went from saying “I’ve never been more proud of our guys” after the win in Stockton to “I mean, we’ve got issues” after the Cougars gave up more than 85 points for the eighth time this season.
“What a difference a couple days makes, huh?” he said.
Several times the coach alluded to the Cougars playing five-straight road games but noted, “the home crowd is not going to fix the issues.”
As junior forward Yoeli Childs said after his 10th double-double — 21 points and 12 rebounds — the issues are so plentiful that it would take less time to describe what went right in Moraga.
“The biggest thing is we got to look in the mirror and see what we can each bring,” Childs said. “We can get pretty intense in practice. We can do all those things, but I think we need to do more stuff individually just to get better as far as getting time in the gym. … It is just something where we are not good enough right now. I don’t think the problem is the work ethic. I think we just have to work a little bit harder. Everybody just has to get a little bit better, and we can get where we need to be.”
• Childs and TJ Haws, who had 20 points, are Rose’s only consistent performers from game to game, although the stars combined for 10 of BYU’s 13 turnovers against SMC. The coach acknowledged it is “pretty late in the season for me to still be trying to figure out who to play” and his constant shuffling and tinkering with his rotation “is probably not fair” to several players.
For instance, junior guard Jahshire Hardnett was phenomenal down the stretch against Pacific and finished with 17 points in 21 minutes, then played just five minutes Saturday and didn’t score. And freshman Gavin Baxter played just five minutes all weekend.
• The Cougars don’t handle adversity well. They seem to panic, especially on offense, when opponents make a few shots in a row.
“When we get behind we get a little bit too quick offensively, trying to score all at once,” Rose said, alluding to first-half lulls that doomed his team in losses at UNLV, San Diego State and Mississippi State in addition to Saint Mary’s.
• BYU needs a reliable third scorer to step up. Against Pacific, it was Hardnett, which is probably the reason the Cougars pulled out the win. Against SMC, Nick Emery hit a few early 3-pointers to keep the Cougars in it when Childs was “atrocious” — his word — in the first half. But Emery cooled off and BYU was 1 of 8 from beyond the arc in the second half.
Player of the week
Haws. The junior scored 44 points in the two games on 13 of 26 shooting, and made a 40-footer to beat the halftime buzzer against SMC. He was especially effective against the Tigers, with six assists and just one turnover.
Play of the week
After Childs fouled out with three minutes remaining against Pacific and the Tigers took their first lead of the game, 79-78, Haws hit an NBA-range 3-pointer to right the Cougars and they never trailed again. Hardnett and Emery went 6 of 6 from the free-throw line in the final minute.
Having last played a home game on Dec. 12, a rollicking 85-66 win over Portland State, the Cougars host the WCC’s Portland at 7 p.m. Thursday. The game will be televised by BYUtv. Portland (0-1, 7-9) lost its WCC opener 76-64 at Loyola Marymount on Saturday afternoon.