BYU in review: Cougars captured much-needed momentum with rousing win over San Diego, begin preparing for postseason

BYU ties for second in WCC regular-season race, will get No. 3 seed in conference tournament and will play in quarterfinal game Saturday night

BYU forward Yoeli Childs scored 29 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in Saturday's 87-73 win over San Diego and is a candidate for West Coast Conference Player of the Year honors. The awards will be announced Tuesday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Provo • BYU didn’t have to defeat San Diego on Saturday night at the Marriott Center to secure the No. 3 seed for this week’s West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Fourth-seeded San Francisco fell earlier Saturday at home to Loyola Marymount, ensuring the Cougars would get the third seed regardless of how they fared on Senior Night.

But knocking off the rugged, physical Toreros 87-73 supplied BYU (11-5, 19-12) the momentum it will need for the tournament after it had lost its previous two games. An added bonus: Saint Mary’s (11-5, 20-11) lost 69-55 to No. 1 Gonzaga late Saturday, meaning BYU tied the Gaels for second place.

“Yeah, for sure,” said junior forward Yoeli Childs. “Obviously we had two letdowns, but this team has been through so much adversity, and through so many challenges, that we know who we are.”

The Cougars were shorthanded, too, because freshman sensation Gavin Baxter was home ill and third-leading scorer Jahshire Hardnett sat on the bench in street clothes, his badly bruised left hand still sore. It was a confidence-building win, even though USD rallied from a 20-point deficit to pull within six in the second half.

“We know we are a team that can bounce back. We know we are a team that is really good when we are playing with a purpose, and doing the right things,” Childs said. “I think everyone’s confidence is sky-high right now. We are going into this thing with the attitude that we are going to go win it all. So we are really excited and I wish Saturday would come quicker.”

Three takeaways

• It will be interesting to see who the coaches choose as the league’s player of the year when the All-WCC teams and individual award winners are announced Tuesday. It will likely be No. 1 Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura or Brandon Clarke.

BYU’s Childs made his case again Saturday with his 17th double-double, and he also tied SMC’s Jordan Ford as the WCC’s scoring leader in all games with 665 points (21.5 ppg.) and led the league in all games in rebounding with 302.

Childs was the leading scorer in conference games only with 331 points (20.7 ppg.) and second in rebounding. He’s a shoo-in for the All-WCC First Team, and fellow junior TJ Haws should be as well.

• BYU will surely need Baxter’s rebounding prowess in the postseason, because USD out-rebounded the Cougars 37-34 and had nine second chance points, eight in the first half, off 11 offensive rebounds.

“Gavin is sick,” Rose said after the game. “I am worried about him. He went to the doctor twice last week. He is feeling a little bit better today, but our trainer wanted him to stay home, stay away from the guys. … Hopefully he is feeling better and we will get him back in here next week.”

That 77-71 loss to San Francisco at the Marriott Center two weeks ago came back to haunt the Cougars, because they would have earned the No. 2 seed — and a double-bye into the WCC semifinals — if they had held on to their 14-point second-half advantage.

Alas, they will have to play in a 10 p.m. MDT quarterfinal Saturday against either Portland, San Diego or Santa Clara. Last-place Portland and No. 7 San Diego will meet Thursday, with the winner taking on No. 6 seed Santa Clara on Friday. The winner of that game advances to play No. 3 BYU in the quarterfinals.

“This time of year it is really physical,” Childs said. “Things that are fouls at the beginning of the year aren’t fouls at the end of the year. You just have to be ready for a dogfight, especially going into the conference tournament where if you lose, you are done.”

Player of the Week

Childs. With Baxter recovering at home, the Cougars went small after senior Luke Worthington got the start in the freshman’s place. Childs rose to the occasion, scoring 29 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He hit two crucial free throws after Haws was bulldozed by Isaiah Wright and had to leave the game, and finished 14 of 19 from the free-throw line in the ultra-physical contest.

Play of the Week

Nick Emery’s 3-pointer that beat the shot clock. The triple gave the Cougars a 75-59 lead with 5:45 remaining and was their final field goal of the game. Emery was 3 of 4 from deep and had 15 points and two assists.

“We missed quite a few threes early in the game that were wide open, really good shots for us. But we didn’t make them,” Rose said. “Then I thought we made a nice adjustment, attacking their closeout and getting to the free-throw line and getting more open shots.”

Saturday’s WCC Quarterfinal Game

At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

No. 3 BYU vs. No. 10 Portland, No. 7 San Diego or No. 6 Santa Clara, 10 p.m. MST