San Francisco • Aside from having to catch a flight in between games, BYU’s second road swing of the West Coast Conference season went a lot like its first one.
The Cougars edged Pacific/Pepperdine in close, competitive games, then lost badly at Saint Mary’s/San Francisco two days later.
Coach Dave Rose hinted after Saturday night’s disappointing 82-63 loss at San Francisco that the Cougars got the short end of the stick as far as preparation was concerned when facing the second- and third-best teams in the league.
But the Cougars (4-2, 12-9) looked so overmatched in both routs that they quite likely would not have won if they had a full week to prepare for the Gaels on Jan. 5 or the Dons late Saturday night at War Memorial Gymnasium.
“We had Saint Mary’s and San Francisco on the second night of a road trip, which our difficult preps,” Rose said.
So San Francisco (4-1, 16-3) got its revenge for last year’s overtime loss in Provo and beat BYU at home in a WCC game for the first time. But the Dons also exposed a lot of the same weaknesses that have plagued the Cougars all season.
Namely, when BYU falls behind, it panics, gets impatient and has a difficult time playing catch-up.
“There are things that we can fix,” Rose said. “But we got in a situation where offensively they had us scouted really well, and they took us out of things. It wasn’t easy to get what we wanted.
“Instead of having patience and kinda working it side to side, we took some really ill-advised shots in the first half, which created opportunities in transition for them.”
Defensively, the Cougars allowed San Francisco to shoot 63.6 percent, a season-high for the Dons and the highest percentage for a BYU opponent this year.
Rose said the Cougars will focus on correcting what went wrong, and highlight some of the positive aspects of the split, most notably how they made plays late to beat Pepperdine 87-76 in Malibu and how they cut a 14-point halftime deficit to six against San Francisco midway through the second half.
“Well, the most important thing is that you stay together through disappointment, and that your guys believe in each other and they believe in themselves, and have confidence in the coaches and the game plan. I think that that’s a big part of the process we are going through,” Rose said. “We cut that thing to six in the second half, showed a lot of fight. We just kinda look at the positive things that we’ve done on this trip that maybe we didn’t get done earlier in the year.”
* Despite their 4-2 record in league games, the Cougars are closer to the bottom of the WCC than the top. They simply were not competitive in their two losses, while their four wins were mostly a struggle, even at home.
* When a third scoring option emerges — like against Pepperdine when Gavin Baxter had 13 points off the bench — the Cougars look the part of a decent Division I college basketball team. But when Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws have to carry the entire scoring load, BYU is vulnerable.
“A lot of it is matchups, too,” Rose said Saturday when asked why Baxter wasn’t a factor. “Pepperdine’s game plan is a little bit different than theirs. Kyle [Smith] runs a lot of actions, a lot of back doors, a lot of counters and things. I thought that it was probably an advantage to the more experienced guys to be able to handle that.”
* It still comes down to making shots. The Cougars shot 56 percent against Pepperdine, but just 44 percent against the Dons.
“Sometimes, shots don’t fall, to be honest,” said wing Zac Seljaas. “We would get good looks … they were just rolling out.”
Player of the Week
Yoeli Childs. The big junior was hard on himself after the USF loss, saying “this loss is on me,” but without him BYU wouldn’t have been within striking distance midway through the second half. He finished the road trip with 45 points on 17 of 34 shooting.
Play(s) of the Week
Baxter’s two dunks within four minutes of each other against Pepperdine, both coming after pinpoint lob passes from Haws.
“TJ put the pass on the money both times,” Baxter said.
BYU plays just one game this week, at 9 p.m. MST Thursday against Saint Mary’s. The Gaels (4-1, 13-7) kept pace with San Francisco for second place in the league standings with an impressive 76-59 win over San Diego on Saturday night and have won four in a row.
“Hopefully, we will be a little bit more efficient and offensively not turn it over [as much as last time],” Rose said.
Saint Mary’s at BYU, 9 p.m.