Basketball is a game of runs. And BYU benefitted from one and suffered from another.
Two days after using a second-half 21-0 run to beat Pacific 74-60, the Cougars fell to San Francisco 83-82 on Saturday due to the Dons’ 21-0 second-half run.
While BYU was hoping to get road wins from its Bay Area trip, the Cougars had to settle for mixed results — again. BYU fell to 15-7 on the season and 4-3 in West Coast Conference play.
A week ago, BYU was in a five-way tie for second in the WCC. Now, the Cougars are in a four-way tie for third. Gonzaga leads the group with a 7-0 conference record and Saint Mary’s (5-2) has started to separate itself after winning its last three games straight.
After Saturday’s loss, BYU coach Mark Pope talked to his team about the same thing they’ve talked about for months: This season will test you.
“It asks you every day, the game asks you how you’re going to respond,” Pope said. “Certainly, this is a really, really painful, questioning time for us about how we respond, and we’re about to face a team on Thursday that’s even more isolation-oriented than this team. And we’ve got to come up with some answers. First, I have to do a way better job. These guys deserve a better coach tonight. And second, our guys have to step up and help.”
For now, at least, the Cougars will be able to focus on how to improve without the added distraction of having to travel. Both of next week’s games — against Pepperdine and a rematch with Saint Mary’s — will take place in the Marriott Center.
However, Pope doesn't know how much of an advantage it will be to stay in Provo if he's not better. The first-year coach took full responsibility for the loss and for not making the necessary adjustments during USF's second-half comeback.
“Home court doesn't save you,” Pope said. “We've got to guard. … It's not going to help us. It's great to be home in our arena, but we have to play better. We have to respond better, we've got to adjust better. And we will.”
Pepperdine at BYU
Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
TV • CBSSN
After BYU built a 14-point lead over the Dons with 16 minutes left, USF went 11 for 12 from the field while the Cougars shot 2 of 12 over the next 10 minutes.
Khalil Shabazz scored almost half of USF's points during that time. But really, the redshirt sophomore was unstoppable all night.
Shabazz went 10 for 10 from the field and made all six 3-point attempts on the way to scoring 32 points.
Although the Cougars went on a seven-minute scoring drought, their offense wasn't the problem. BUY still shot 51.7% from the field and 55.6% from beyond the arc. Their problem came from the defensive end.
“Every game is a battle,” junior Alex Barcello said. “We've got to come out ready to play and come out ready to guard and defend and just make as many stops as we can and continue to play together as a team.”
Last week also saw the return of Yoeli Childs, who had been sidelined with an open dislocation of his right index finger. After getting injured Jan. 7, Childs took part in his first practice on Tuesday and got back into game action on Thursday at Pacific, posting 26 points and nine rebounds.
At USF, the senior scored 19 points and brought down seven rebounds. He also took a career-high seven 3-point attempts, but tied his career-best with only three made.
After Thursday’s win, grad transfer Jake Toolson, who scored a career-best 28 points, said he’d take Childs in any condition with or without any missing fingers because of what his teammate adds to the dynamic of the team.
But his return wasn’t enough at USF, and the Cougars fell to the Dons for a third straight time.
BYU is 2-5 in true away games, and four of those were heartbreakers — a four-point overtime loss at Boise State, seven-point overtime loss at Utah, three-point overtime loss at Saint Mary’s and now a one-point loss at USF.
Pope said the last time the team was punched in the mouth this badly with isolation issues was in a 72-68 overtime loss at Boise State on Nov. 20. The Cougars just couldn’t manage it – Pope failed to help his team manage it.
“It’s a question for us that’s not going away,” Pope said. “It’s a part of basketball and we have to figure out answers. And I’ve got to figure out answers for our team. So, the progress I would say for this week is incredibly painful, but sometimes you have to go through some painful things to get where you want to go. And we clearly know where we want to go. We’ve got to keep fighting and getting better every day to try and get there.”