BYU could play Gonzaga 10 times this season and probably never come within 10 points of the Zags, but for a few brief moments in both halves on Saturday night, the Cougars showed some flashes of being able to hang with the college basketball team that will probably be ranked No. 1 in the nation this week.
That’s what coach Dave Rose chose to focus on after the Cougars fell 102-68 at McCarthey Athletic Center, a 6,000-seat venue where somehow BYU defeated the best program in the West three consecutive times from 2015-17.
“I thought our guys competed really well,” Rose told the BYU Radio Network. “I thought we fought hard. But I thought we turned the ball over too many times. So those are issues that we need to address. Hopefully we can get back on a winning track on Saturday [against San Diego] before we go to the WCC tournament next week.”
Turnovers haunted the Cougars (18-12, 10-5) in Thursday’s meltdown loss to San Francisco, and again Saturday at the Kennel, especially in the first half. The Zags (27-2, 14-0) scored 15 points off BYU’s turnovers in the first half alone in racing out to a 51-38 halftime lead. They finished with 19 points off 15 BYU turnovers, while the Cougars had just four points off six GU turnovers.
After that dreadful first half, the Cougars played the home team evenly for the first eight minutes of the second half, but they started to fall apart after Yoeli Childs picked up his fourth foul and headed to the bench.
“We got to that same stretch, the eight- or nine-minute mark, just like the other night, and we didn’t execute like we needed to down the stretch,” Rose said. “And that’s the comparable thing about the two games. So that will be our challenge, to get back in the gym and get ourselves going."
* The Cougars let the uneven officiating get the best of them, especially after Childs was whistled for two touch fouls in the second half and Gavin Baxter was hammered going to the rim for a dunk but no foul was called. Twenty-two fouls were called on BYU and only 14 were called on GU, which plays much more aggressively on defense.
Rose drew a technical foul — the second technical on BYU’s bench — after the no-call on Baxter’s drive and GU shot seven straight free throws in a three-possession stretch.
“Another big part in a game like this that is so physical, you gotta get yourself to the free-throw line,” Rose said. “And we didn’t get any bonus free throws until there were two minutes left in the game. And that’s a little bit rare. In the second half, I was trying to encourage the refs to help us get to that point because I thought the fouls were out there to be called. They just decided tonight that they were going to let us play on.”
* BYU’s half-court offense isn’t improving. Too often in the second half against San Francisco and the entire game against Gonzaga, the Cougars got impatient and took ill-advised shots instead of swinging the ball to the other side to perhaps exploit a mismatch.
“I always describe it like you are trying to score five points on one possession when in reality it is a grind and you have to execute and get the shot you want,” Rose said. “And when you get that shot, you gotta be really strong and convert it.”
* The Cougars keep saying their best basketball is ahead of them, but when they really, really needed to play their best basketball against the two best teams in the league, they faltered. It’s time to put up or shut up, or they might not even get an NIT bid.
Player of the Week: Having been named WCC Player of the Week after BYU beat San Diego and LMU on the road, guard TJ Haws was solid again. He scored 53 points and dished out 10 assists, but it wasn’t enough to help the Cougars avoid just their second multiple-loss week of the season.
Play of the Week: After USF inexplicably called timeout after scoring with less than two seconds remaining in the first half, BYU got Haws back into the game and he nailed a 40-footer to beat the buzzer and give the Cougars a 38-34 halftime advantage.
Looking ahead: The Cougars have a bye on Thursday and will conclude the regular season Saturday against San Diego by honoring Luke Worthington and McKay Cannon on Senior Night (7 p.m., BYUtv) at the Marriott Center. Saint Mary’s (10-4) moved into second place in the league standings, while BYU (10-5) dropped to third and San Francisco (9-5) dropped to fourth by losing at Santa Clara late Saturday.
San Diego at BYU, 7 p.m. MST