Spokane, Wash. • After suffering their worst loss of the season, BYU coach Mark Pope said he was going to struggle to find a positive to take out of Saturday's 92-69 beating by No. 1 Gonzaga.
He did like how the team managed the transition defense in the first half, but that was also when the Cougars struggled off the glass the most.
Then BYU just got ripped apart in the second half to finish another week with mixed results – the Cougars had beaten San Diego by 23 points two days earlier.
Yet, BYU is still tied for second in the West Coast Conference standings. Along with the Cougars, four other teams – Saint Mary's, Santa Clara, Pacific and San Francisco – are fighting for that No. 2 spot with a 3-2 WCC record.
“There were moments of stretches in the game where we just trusted each other and trusted the offense to actually help us to get something good,” Pope said. “And those moments were good, and the moments where we didn’t trust and just said, ‘We’re going to try and do this ourselves,’ we were terrible. So, I guess you take that as a positive, right? We’ve got to just shift the percentages and we’ve got to believe and that’s all stuff we can do. I know we can do it.”
What also hurt the Cougars in The Kennel was their 3-point shooting.
BYU went 1 of 8 from beyond the arc in the first half, with the lone 3-pointer made coming from Zac Seljaas. More started falling in the second half, but only 5 of 12. Jake Toolson was the only Cougar to make more than one, going 2 of 5 from long range against the Bulldogs.
It was quite a difference from the team that had made 11 3-pointers against San Diego two nights prior and 15 against Portland the week before. The Cougars have hit 10-plus 3s in nine games this season.
“I felt like we didn't get as good a looks as we usually get and had a lot of contested 3s,” senior TJ Haws, who posted a team-best 17 points said. “They're really long and they're really good defensively.”
Both teams also played without their leading scorer.
Gonzaga's Filip Petrusev suffered an ankle injury early in the second half that kept him sidelined the remainder of the game.
BYU’s Yoeli Childs was dressed and warming up with the team before the game, having been updated to a game-time decision, but never saw any action. Since Childs suffered an open dislocation of his right index finger, the Cougars have fallen to 8-5.
Senior Dalton Nixon said he knew there was a chance Childs could play because of how much better his teammate has gotten since banging up his finger in practice, but he’s proud of the way Kolby Lee and Seljaas handled the bigs down low.
“Obviously the absence of Yoeli is a big deal, but we've fought all season,” Nixon said. “And we fought tonight. There were just some plays, some 50/50 balls that they got, we didn't. That's all we can do – keep fighting, keep sticking together.”
The loss in Spokane was the start of a three-game road stint for the Cougars, who play at Pacific and San Francisco next week.
With the way the WCC is stacked up, Pope is well aware of how big the next games are, especially because they are on the road. The Cougars are 1-4 in true away games.
However, BYU has not had consecutive losses this season, always bouncing back after a loss. So, Pope is interested to see how his team responds.
“I think it’s going to be what we make it,” Pope said. “It’s either going to break us and put some questions in our mind, or it’s going to steel us and force deeper commitment, and that’s what every game does. So, it’s no different – win or lose. The question is how you answer it and so far these guys have been fantastic at answering. And I expect that we’ll answer again – that’s what this group does.”