Provo • Perhaps senior forward Luke Worthington said it best after BYU walloped Portland 79-56 on Thursday and edged past Santa Clara 80-74 on Saturday at the Marriott Center to right itself after a week of turmoil.
“It seems like every week is a dramatic week with this team,” Worthington said after scoring a season-high 13 points in the difficult win over the Broncos. “Everybody has got stuff going on at all times. You know, with life, there are a lot of ups and downs.”
Same with the Cougars.
They have been good enough to win most of their games at home, but not quite consistent enough away from home to make anyone notice.
Last week’s distraction came courtesy of disgruntled guard Jahshire Hardnett, who reportedly quit the team on Monday after getting into a verbal dispute with coach Dave Rose in the middle of the loss at Saint Mary’s two days prior, but was somehow persuaded to return.
The mystery deepened when Hardnett practiced Wednesday, according to Rose, but was held out of both home games with an injury to his left hand that Rose said happened against the Gaels when he played just five minutes. While rumors and conspiracy theories swirled, Rose insisted Saturday night that the guard’s injured hand is really the reason he hasn’t played.
“He is in the hands of the doctors now,” said Rose, who shies away from distractions and controversy like most folks shy away from arsenic. “Once he gets cleared, we will get him out there and get rolling.”
There’s also intrigue regarding sophomore forward Dalton Nixon, who started in eight of the team’s first nine games, then lost his starting job, then was held out of the Mississippi State game for “personal reasons” that involved school administrators. Nixon played 12 minutes or fewer against Pacific, Saint Mary’s and Portland, then didn’t even get off the bench against the Pilots.
“Yeah, Dalton is healthy,” Rose said when he was asked if Nixon was available to play. “We made a concerted effort [to play younger guys]. … We will keep kinda massaging that and keep everybody ready so we got guys who can really help us.”
That seems plausible, in theory, until one realizes that seniors Worthington and McKay Cannon combined to play for more than 42 minutes against Santa Clara and 47 against Portland.
• The Cougars desperately need a reliable third scorer to step up and help Yoeli Childs (22.3 ppg.) and TJ Haws (17.1) carry the load, especially in the absence of Hardnett (10.9 ppg.). Cannon had 11 against Portland, but just three against SCU; Worthington had 13 against SCU, but just two against Portland.
• Saturday’s win over Santa Clara offered more proof that this isn’t one of Rose’s better teams. Sure, the Broncos have improved, but past BYU teams would have blown them out after leading by 14 in the first half and 11 midway through the second. This iteration couldn’t put SCU away and needed a 3-pointer by Haws with 1:33 remaining to seal the deal.
• The Cougars (3-1, 11-8) and Gonzaga (3-0, 16-2) are the only two teams in the WCC with three wins, but that’s where the similarities end. The Zags broke from a 79-79 tie with San Francisco at the under-four media timeout to win going away 96-83 at USF Saturday night to show they are still the league’s best team by a wide margin. And USF showed it is probably second-best.
Player of the week
Junior forward Yoeli Childs. The Bingham High product made himself a WCC Player of the Week candidate by scoring 55 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in the two BYU wins. It would be hard to imagine the Cougars having anything close to a winning record without their star, who is likely playing his final season in Provo.
Play of the week
The aforementioned Haws 3-pointer that put the Cougars ahead 77-71 Saturday night.
“We called one of our plays — two guards coming off two screens — and I happened to be open. I had a great look at it and I felt confident shooting it. And it felt good the whole way,” Haws said.
Another tough two-game road swing awaits the Cougars, who will play at Pepperdine (2-2, 9-9) on Thursday in Malibu and at San Francisco (2-1, 14-3) on Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium on the Hilltop. Both games tip off at 9 p.m. MST.
“Two good teams,” Rose said. “Pepperdine won [Saturday] at San Diego, and played Santa Clara tough, led the whole game on Thursday, got beat at the end. And obviously San Francisco is one of the top teams in the league. We look forward to that.”
BYU at Pepperdine, 9 p.m.