We've come to expect teams to really come out strong against us here.
PROVO — One of the biggest challenges in each game, BYU head coach Dave Rose says, is to make your players understand exactly what needs to be accomplished to achieve success.
It took about six minutes for Rose to convey that, but once he did, the Cougars (10-3) rolled in an 89-75 victory over UC Santa Barbara (5-5) Thursday night at the Marriott Center.
"I think you try to get the attention of your players to understand the challenge you have with each game," Rose said.
UCSB came out firing, taking a 14-9 lead four minutes into the game, with BYU struggling defensively. But that defense tightened up, and at the same time, the Cougars' offense woke up, as they took a 38-32 halftime advantage.
Both Rose and Noah Hartsock — who finished with 21 points — pointed out that because of BYU's success in recent years, teams seem to get up for games on the Cougars' home court.
"We've come to expect teams to really come out strong against us here," Hartsock said.
The Cougars turned their slim lead into a comfortable advantage when they went on a 16-4 scoring spurt in the second half. A personal 5-0 run by Brock Zylstra — capped off with a 3-pointer directly after he had his nose bloodied on a flagrant foul — put BYU up 64-59.
BYU got consistent and strong play from point guard Matt Carlino, who led the Cougars with 22 points. He also had a game-high six assists.
"I wouldn't really say that I was creating out there, as much as I'm passing it to guys that are making baskets," Carlino said. "It's easy when you throw it to guys that are hitting shots."
Zylstra filled up the stat sheet with nine points, seven rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal.
Rose gave the Gauchos credit for being prepared.
"I thought they did a really good job of scouting, and they were able to take us out of what we wanted to do, and contest every shot," he said.
UCSB head coach Bob Williams was pleased with his team's start, but acknowledged that they didn't finish.
"I thought we shot the ball well at times, but then we quit being productive, and we have to perform at a much higher level," Williams said. "We battled a lot harder and were more competitive tonight than in our previous game. We didn't take care of the ball, which traditionally we do very well, and we had way too many turnovers (19)."
Despite trying to claw back into the game, UCSB would only get as close as 69-62, before the Cougars built their lead back up.
Brandon Davies put in 17 points for the Cougars, while pulling down six rebounds and collecting four steals. Charles Abouo contributed 16 points and grabbed six rebounds.
The Gauchos were led by Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally, each finishing with 22 points. Johnson also had nine rebounds, while Nunnally pulled down seven boards. Jaime Serna had 12 points and Kyle Boswell 10.
BYU next plays host to Cal State San Marcos Dec. 27 at 7 p.m.