Provo • Blowout losses, lackadaisical defensive efforts, multiple-game losing streaks, selfish play and teammates who are disgruntled over their playing time and roles have a way of tearing apart college basketball teams.
But the BYU Cougars insist that won’t be them this year after having experienced all of the above through the first 18 games of the season. That unified front was evident Thursday night as the Cougars fought off the distractions of last Saturday’s 88-66 loss at Saint Mary’s and guard Jahshire Hardnett’s absence from two practices by crushing Portland 79-56 at the Marriott Center.
“Every team is going through stuff,” said BYU forward Yoeli Childs. “We have dealt with a lot of adversity this year, and guys are going through a lot of hard things in their personal lives. But that’s something that is not actually super uncommon, where guys are struggling. You just gotta pick your guys up. That’s what it is all about. We are a brotherhood, and when guys are down, every other guy on the team has to go pick them up.”
Standing at 2-1 in West Coast Conference play, 10-8 overall, BYU returns to the Marriott Center on Saturday night to host much-improved Santa Clara (10-7), which is also 2-1 in league and owns wins over the likes of USC, Washington State and San Diego this season.
Coach Dave Rose said it will be a good test for the Cougars, who had lost four of five before stomping the league’s worst team.
Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek “has got a really good group,” Rose said. “They are not very deep. .. But they are very big and strong. Their guards are playing very well. They have a couple transfers and a fifth-year senior who have really helped them.”
The Broncos downed Pepperdine 67-64 late Thursday when Southeast Missouri transfer Tahj Eaddy drew a controversial foul while attempting a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining and hit all three free throws. Cal State Bakersfield transfer Fallou Ndoye, a 6-foot-11 fifth-year senior who began his college career at Mississippi State, gives SCU the inside presence it hasn’t had recently.
As for the Cougars, they may or may not have the services of Hardnett, who is dealing with an injury to his (left) shooting hand. Rose said the injury is the reason the junior didn’t play against Portland, and not because he reportedly quit the team Monday and had to be persuaded to return.
“When you look at his practice [Wednesday], he was really favoring it,” Rose said. “He is a tough kid. He played last year a lot with a broken finger. … It was planned to play him if he could. Now we have kinda been put on a watch. Hopefully it is quick.”
Childs and fellow junior Zac Seljaas downplayed the drama over Hardnett’s situation, saying it wasn’t as big of a distraction as many believed.
“Most teams in the country know exactly what I am talking about,” Childs said. “A lot of people want to blame everything on basketball. They ask: ‘What is happening here? What is happening there?’ A lot of stuff is bigger than basketball. That’s why I am sho happy we are a brotherhood and we are a bunch of guys that have each other’s back.”
Seljaas has seen his own minutes decrease the past five games, but said the team’s chemistry and unity are still good. Guys have continued to buy in despite the big losses to San Diego State, Mississippi State and Saint Mary’s, he said.
“Yeah, we still have that fire,” Seljaas said after scoring eight points in 18 minutes against Portland. “It hurts when you lose, especially because we know that we should be winning a lot of these games and we know how good we really are.
“All we want to do is win,” Seljaas continued. “It doesn’t matter who scores, who does anything. We just want to win. That’s kind of been how we have been through the season — after a loss we just want to go out there and just fire away and just play as hard as we can.”
SANTA CLARA AT BYU
At the Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff • Saturday, 7 p.m. MST
TV • BYUtv
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 2-1, 10-8; Santa Clara 2-1, 10-7
Series history • BYU leads 30-6
Last meeting • BYU 80, Santa Clara 58 (Feb. 8, 2018)
About the Broncos • They have won seven of their last eight games, the only setback during that stretch a 91-48 loss at Gonzaga. They defeated Pac-12 foes USC and Washington State during their six-game winning streak. … Sophomore guard Tahj Eaddy sat out last year after transferring from Southeast Missouri and leads them in scoring with a 17.9 average. Former Wasatch Academy star Josip Vrankic is second in scoring with a 13.4 average.
About the Cougars • They are 8-1 all-time at the Marriott Center against Santa Clara, including a 7-0 record since joining the WCC. … They lead the WCC in 3-pointers per game (8.7) and made nine in Thursday’s 79-56 win over Portland. … Sophomore guard Rylan Bergersen played 16 minutes, 37 seconds against the Pilots and scored seven points on 3 of 5 shooting, one point shy of his season-high. … They have not won consecutive games since winning three straight in early December over Utah State, Utah and Portland State.