It's really important how we play to close out games. I think that's been a real strength of this team. —Coach Dave Rose
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As Noah Hartsock fell hard to the floor under the basket Saturday while battling for a rebound against Santa Clara, the senior forward lay almost motionless for several minutes, and BYU fans held their collective breath.
So did Hartsock.
For a while, the senior from Bartlesville, Okla., thought his season — and career — might be over.
"It just felt like something happened to my knee, just the way I landed," Hartsock said. "I was a little scared. You get that little sensation, and I was a little afraid at that moment. I came down and the weight on top of me, it just felt like something might have happened."
Bronco forward Yannick Atanga, who drew a foul, got tangled up with Hartsock, who landed in awkward fashion. There was 9:54 remaining in the game, and the Cougars led the Broncos by eight, but at that moment, the outcome of the contest wasn't foremost on Hartsock's mind.
"My knee was still bent," he said of the time he spent on the floor. "I was afraid to stretch it out because it felt like there might be something terribly wrong there. Fortunately, it wasn't anything too big."
Eventually, Hartsock stood up and walked off the floor on his own power, went to the locker room, and later returned to the game.
Hartsock fueled a late-game surge that allowed BYU to pull away from Santa Clara, 82-67, before a sellout crowd of 4,700 at the Leavey Center.
Playing as though nothing was wrong, Hartsock scored five of the Cougars' final 13 points to finish with a game-high 21.
"That just shows exactly how Noah is. He's going to give you all he has every single day," said forward Brandon Davies, who finished with 20 points. "Whether he's hurt or not, he's going to try and do what he can help the team win. We were all worried. He's a tough guy. He doesn't go down like that unless he's really hurt. It's unfortunate that that happened. I'm just glad he's OK."
Coach Dave Rose said it was adrenaline that enabled Hartsock to finish the game. Rose went onto the floor to check on his team's leading scorer after the injury.
"He was pretty scared, the way he came down," Rose said. "He's still not out of the woods … We'll see how he is (Sunday and Monday). (Sunday) will be a big day. If it swells and the pain stays out of it, he might have dodged a bullet. But history will tell you it will probably be pretty sore (Sunday)."
BYU is heading into the final week of the regular season, which starts with a visit to No. 24 Gonzaga on Thursday. Not long after the Cougars polished off the Broncos, the Bulldogs fell at San Francisco, 66-65. BYU recorded a one-point victory over the Dons two nights earlier.
The Cougars (23-6, 11-3) and 'Zags (21-5, 11-3) are now tied for second place in the West Coast Conference standings, setting up a huge showdown in Spokane on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, by falling to BYU on Saturday, Santa Clara (8-19, 0-14) dropped its 14th consecutive game and remained winless in WCC play.
Yet the Broncos hung in the game with the Cougars until the final five minutes. Forward Niyi Harrison and guard Brandon Clark both scored 19 points for Santa Clara.
"These are the teams that are the most dangerous — the teams that come out and play like they have nothing to lose," Davies said. "We knew we couldn't take this game off. As you could see, they fought us the whole game and they weren't just going to go away."
The Cougars shot 58.5 percent from the field, though they made only 3-of-12 from 3-point territory. BYU's guards focused on feeding the ball inside to Hartsock and Davies. Hartsock (8-of-14) and Davies (6-of-7) combined to go 14-of-21 from the floor.
Rose was pleased with the way his team finished.
"It's really important how we play to close out games," he said. "I think that's been a real strength of this team."
Guard Matt Carlino, who scored a career-high 30 points last Thursday, suffered an MCL sprain against San Francisco and played part of Saturday with a brace on his right knee. He scored just two points, but he dished out seven assists.
As for Hartsock, he said his knee is "really sore." More will be known about the severity of his injury soon.
Whatever the diagnosis, he knows it could have been much, much worse.