Provo • BYU basketball coach Dave Rose called Saturday’s 87-73 win over San Diego in front of an announced crowd of 13,095 a “hard-fought game.”
He wasn’t joking.
The Cougars almost blew another big second-half lead, but rallied after the Toreros cut a 20-point deficit with 10 minutes remaining to six with two minutes left. Despite not making a field goal in the final five minutes and 45 seconds, BYU (11-5, 19-12) held on to sweep the season series.
“It was a pretty physical game, which we anticipated,” Rose said. “I am happy for our guys. We get a big win, a little bit of momentum going into the tournament next week.”
BYU finished tied with Saint Mary’s, which lost to Gonzaga, for second place in the final league standings.
San Diego fell to 7-9 and 18-13, having knocked off San Francisco in overtime on Thursday. That figured to be a huge gift to the Cougars, but the Dons lost to LMU Saturday afternoon, and BYU had the third seed wrapped up before tip-off.
No matter, said Yoeli Childs, who had his 17th double-double of the season with 29 points and 13 rebounds.
“Coach addressed it before the game, and made it very clear that that is not what it is about,” Childs said. “It is about going out and competing every single game. It is about giving it your all, especially for this last game to make sure we go out and get a win for those seniors.”
BYU 87, SAN DIEGO 63
• Yoeli Childs registers his 17th double-double of the season with 29 points and 13 rebounds and TJ Haws scores 26 points and dishes out four assists
• BYU leads by 20 points with 10 minutes remaining before USD mounts a furious comeback to get within six, but gets no closer
• The Cougars will be the No. 3 seed in the West Coast Conference tournament and will play in the late quarterfinal game Saturday night
Seniors Luke Worthington and McKay Cannon were honored before the final home game, and Worthington got the start because freshman center Gavin Baxter was ill and missed practices the past week.
“I think we really played for them tonight,” Childs said. “There were times when we were down and they were making their runs, and we really just pulled together and played as a group again. I was proud of the way we fought tonight.”
TJ Haws added 26 points, five rebounds and four assists, but was involved in a scary moment late in the game that had Rose fuming a bit. Haws and USD’s Isaiah Wright, who led the Toreros with 19 points, banged heads with 1:58 remaining and the Cougars leading 79-73.
Wright was assessed with the foul.
What went through Rose’s mind when his star guard and USD’s star guard were both slow to get up?
“I will tell you what goes through my mind: Why are we playing like that?,” Rose said. “We don’t play like that in November, I promise you. How come when we get to March, that’s how we play? That’s all I got to say about that.”
Childs hit both free throws for Haws, who had to leave the game, and Nick Emery followed with a free throw to give BYU some breathing room. Having rallied back from a 69-49 deficit, San Diego didn’t score after Finn Sullivan’s basket cut BYU’s lead to 79-73 with 2:19 remaining.
“We played right, until the last six or eight minutes, where the ball got stuck on one side,” Rose said of USD’s comeback. “But for the most part, it was good. The assists, at one time we had 15 baskets on 12 assists or something like that. Then at the end of the game we kind of went away from that.”
Nick Emery added 15 and Zac Seljaas had 10. The Cougars took 40 free throws, making 31, while USD was 17 of 21 from the line.
“These games are good for us,” Haws said “That’s a good win for us against a really good team. But to have a lead like that, anyone can beat anyone on any given night. And when you play a team like that that has such great shooters all around the board, they can make a run at any time.”
The Cougars blew a 14-point lead in the final eight minutes the last time they played at home, against San Francisco on Feb. 21, but didn’t let it all slip away this time.
“Everyone’s confidence is sky-high right now,” Childs said. “We are going into this thing [WCC tournament] with the attitude that we are going to win it all.”