Stockton, Calif. • As two of the five teams battling for the No. 2 spot in the West Coast Conference standings, BYU and Pacific met in a showdown at the Alex G. Spanos Center on Thursday night. And neither team disappointed.
The Tigers were also looking to break a three-game losing streak to the Cougars but, while the game was kept close for most of the night, BYU broke free late in the second half with a 21-0 run to put the game away, 74-60.
It was also the first conference road win for BYU, which had previously lost at Saint Mary’s in overtime and at Gonzaga in its last game. The Cougars will continue their road swing Saturday, at San Francisco.
“I saw a couple go down and I was just feeling it,” Jake Toolson said. “We were getting stops and we kind of went on a run. It was a lot of fun. The energy in this building is crazy. I'm just glad we got the win – that was a huge game for us.”
After having to sit out two weeks, BYU’s Yoeli Childs made his second return to action this season.
Childs’ didn’t get off to the best start. He didn’t even get an OK start.
The senior missed a 3-point attempt (and would go on to miss his first three shots), had two turnovers and got blocked — all in the first three minutes of the game — as Pacific opened with an 8-0 run.
But after Childs, and the Cougars, settled down, BYU started chipping away. And soon the shots started to fall — even for Childs.
“I was struggling a little bit early – it was just kind of weird getting back into it,” Childs said. “But the guys were super supportive and they picked me up, as always, and it was just a ton of fun.”
After suffering an open dislocation of his right index finger on Jan. 7, Childs participated in his first practice earlier this week. The next day, Childs came back without any issues – so he practiced again.
When nothing concerning came up by game day, Pope made the decision to put Childs back into the starting lineup.
Although Childs showed some “rust” early, Pope thought his performance was still remarkable.
“Maybe more than anything else, I'm proud of Yoeli about managing frustration right now – because he did,” Pope said. “And he let himself take some, for him, hard shots, which are impossible shots. And then had solid results after that, even. So, we're all super happy to have him back.”
The 6-foot-8 forward finally hit his first shot of the night on a 3-pointer that sparked a 10-2 run to give the Cougars a 15-14 lead. There were four more lead changes in the first half.
“I'm so glad to have him back,” Toolson said. “Nine fingers, four fingers, zero fingers – I don't care, man. He's so good and such a big part of what we do, so I'm so happy for him.”
In the latter part of the first half, however, Pacific lost one of its starters after Amari McCray was ejected for grabbing Zac Seljaas from the back and throwing him down. McCray has been averaging 6.3 points on 56.7% shooting.
At the time, the Cougars were in the middle of putting together a 10-0 run, but Pacific responded with its own 8-o run.
And that’s how the game continued. Just as one team gained momentum, the other would break it up and string a series of plays together.
Neither team scored in the final three minutes of the first half, but BYU did enough to lead 33-29 at halftime.
“Just two teams going at it, battling, trying to get stops,” Toolson said. “I think we just stayed in it, stayed in it, stayed in it and then eventually we broke it open. If we can stay long enough to blow the lid off, then I think that's what happened tonight. We've got to keep fighting.”
The second half started with a bigger sense of urgency, and the pace of the game went up a notch.
While the Cougars led for the majority of the second half, the Tigers were never too far behind. At least, not until BYU mounted a huge 21-0 run that ended with less than four minutes left in the game. During that run, Toolson hit three consecutive 3-pointers and scored 14 of the 21 points.
“Man, it was just – it was fun,” Toolson said. “We were getting stops. Like I said, when we get stops, we've got opportunities to push it and to get good looks down here. That was our focus this game – we've got to put some stops together and we know what we can do defensively.”
Toolson ended the night with a career-high 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting and was 6 of 8 from the 3-point line. Childs was right behind his teammate, posting 26 points — the only other Cougar to get into double digits.
While the Cougars once again didn’t shoot as many 3-pointers as they’ve come to be known for, they hit them when they counted. BYU shot 50% from beyond the arc and 54% from the field — well above its average.