BYU’s epic meltdown in lopsided and humiliating WCC tournament loss to San Diego raises questions about program’s future

Cougars’ wildly inconsistent season could be over if they don’t get an NIT bid next Sunday, leaving coach Dave Rose a win shy of 20 for the first time in 14 years

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU basketball coach Dave Rose congratulates star forward Yoeli Childs during a game against Utah in Salt Lake City last December. If BYU doesn't get an invitation to the NIT next Sunday, the Cougars' season is likely over.

Las Vegas • After BYU was handed another humiliating defeat in a college basketball season full of them late Saturday night, senior forward Luke Worthington was actually asked if the Cougars were aware in the middle of the West Coast Conference tournament game that they were getting routed by epic proportions.

“Well,” Worthington said in disbelief at the question, "the scoreboard is pretty big.”

So it wasn’t a great night for the reporters, either.

Also big are BYU’s problems as coach Dave Rose’s program misses the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year after seventh-seeded San Diego eliminated them 80-57 at Orleans Arena in a game that actually wasn’t that close, if that’s imaginable.

Legitimate questions regarding the program’s future abound, but Rose dismissed them in the wee hours Sunday morning, instead complaining about the tournament format and praising USD’s play and senior leadership.

The Toreros led 69-25 with 11:47 remaining and were seemingly on their way to delivering the worst beatdown in Rose’s 14-year tenure before Zac Seljaas hit a 3-pointer — the Cougars’ only trey of the game — to end a four-minute scoring drought.

“We have had our fair share of comebacks this season from big deficits, but San Diego really threw it all out there tonight, so credit them for the way they played,” Worthington said.

Rose deflected questions about BYU’s lack of readiness in the most important game of the season, to date, instead saying the Toreros (21-13) were much better than their No. 7 seeding suggested because they lost some early conference games due to injuries. He said USD played the four top seeds twice in the regular season because of the WCC’s unbalanced schedule and fifth-seeded LMU and sixth-seeded Santa Clara did not.

He didn’t have an explanation as to why the Cougars laid a giant egg against a team they had scored 88 and 87 points against in regular-season meetings. He said the Cougars practiced and prepared well. Then the shell-shocked Cougars went out and missed their first six shots, fell behind 13-0, went 1 of 17 from the 3-point line and shot 31 percent (18 of 58) from the field, a season low.

At one point BYU was shooting 24.5 percent (18 of 58) before a late flurry of shot-making by reserves against reserves.

It was arguably the worst showing in a game the Cougars were favored to win (they were 3.5-point favorites) in school history.

“It is hard to execute the game plan and stay competitive when you are a shooting team and you shoot the percentage that we did,” Rose said. “It is just hard. You gotta keep guarding, and you gotta keep finding ways to compete, and when you don’t score, that’s a part of this game that’s really important. When you go 1 of 17 from the 3-point line, it is going to be hard to beat any team.”

Now some really hard questions need to be answered.

Three takeaways

• BYU might have to sit on this loss until November. The Cougars (19-13) were on the NIT bubble before the nationally televised (ESPN2) debacle, and did themselves no favors by looking completely overmatched against a team they beat 87-73 a week ago.

Rose was noncommittal when asked if BYU would play in the CBI or CIT if it doesn’t get an NIT bid. “Obviously, I will have to talk to our administration and see how they feel,” he said. “We haven’t been [in this position before]. We have always felt like we compete for one of those two postseason tournaments [NCAA or NIT]. But we will see.”

* In retrospect, BYU’s hopes of ending its NCAA drought were dashed last spring when star guard Elijah Bryant left the program for professional basketball with a year of eligibility remaining and Payton Dastrup transferred to Oregon State. Eric Mika left early the previous year and Yoeli Childs almost certainly will this year.

Rose noted twice in his postgame comments that first-year San Diego coach Sam Scholl was able to keep four key seniors from moving on. Rose has got to figure out a way to do the same.

• The WCC changed its tournament format to help the better teams avoid RPI-killing games against the bottom feeders and instituted an unbalanced league schedule to keep Gonzaga from bolting for the Mountain West. Rose joined GU coach Mark Few in leading the charge for changes. But it backfired on the Cougars, who were disadvantaged in terms of familiarity with the arena, and now Gonzaga will play No. 8 seed Pepperdine in the semifinals Monday and possibly No. 7 seed San Diego in the finals on Tuesday.

Neither will help the No. 1-ranked Zags’ quest for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Player/Play of the Game

We will forego these weekly honors on account of a serious lack of candidates from the BYU side of the aisle.

Looking ahead

If BYU doesn’t get an NIT bid, its season is probably over. That opinion is based on things coaches and administrators have said in previous years when an NIT bid was more likely than this year. Then again, BYU officials are proud of the fact that the Cougars have won 20 or more games in every season of Rose’s tenure, and that streak will end, obviously, if the 2018-19 campaign goes dark.