In a close back-and-forth affair in which neither team played particularly well, BYU was able to gain separation from San Francisco in the last 10 minutes of the game and then hold on for a sloppy 83-76 win.
The Cougars’ first conference road win, and fourth straight overall, leaves them at 4-2 in the West Coast Conference and 12-7 overall. The loss drops San Francisco, a top-100 RPI team heading into the game, to 4-3 in WCC play and 11-8 on the season.
Thursday night at the War Memorial Gymnasium, neither team led by more than four until BYU took a 58-52 lead with 11:06 remaining. The Dons were still within five with less than four minutes to go, and were within five again with 21 seconds left and had possession of the ball. Kyle Collinsworth made a big defensive play to force a turnover and finally seal the victory for the visiting Cougars.
Each of BYU’s key players made important contributions during certain stretches, all of which were necessary for the Cougars to ultimately leave San Francisco with a hard-fought team win. Matt Carlino came up especially big off the bench. After sitting for the first eight minutes of the game, Carlino immediately sparked the team and played nearly the entire game after that, sitting out only a few minutes to start the second half.
This was a big win for coach Dave Rose and the Cougars, who suddenly have entered the NCAA Tournament picture again after largely being written off two weeks ago. Several projections, even before this game, had the Cougars as a bubble team. After beating an RPI top-100 team on the road, those projections should hold steady.
Here are the grades for each BYU position group and other aspects of the game.
Carlino seems to be thriving in his new role as the sixth man. In his 27 minutes, he was a strong challenger for MVP of this game for BYU. He noticeably gave the team a lift when he took the floor in the first half and looked confident and in control throughout the evening. Carlino finished with 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-6 behind the arc. The rest of his stat line really doesn’t tell the story of the overall impact he had. If Carlino plays a few less minutes versus the Dons, BYU likely loses.
Collinsworth continued to trend upward with another nice outing. Although he did not have an assist in the game, he did make 7-of-10 shots for 19 points to go along with four rebounds and two steals. Perhaps most importantly, Collinsworth had just one turnover and continued to look smoother from the foul line in making 5-of-7 free throws.
Skyler Halford was the best player on the floor when BYU needed him most. He played a key role the final four minutes to help seal the win. Although Halford didn’t play well for most of the evening, he did knock down 11-of-12 free throws and came up with three steals.
It is difficult to know what to make of Tyler Haws these days. He does not appear to be playing with a lot of confidence. He gets his shot blocked regularly when he tries to drive to the basket and continues to force up shots when a pass might be a smarter play. In 31 minutes, Haws did not collect a single rebound, steal or block. He had three turnovers and four fouls to go along with his season average of one assist. To his credit, he did make 5-of-10 shots and 4-of-5 at the foul line.
Anson Winder and Frank Bartley IV combined for just eight minutes and had virtually no impact on the game. Each player now appears to be uncertain of himself when he does get minutes, which is not surprising considering how severely their playing time has fluctuated this season.
As a group, BYU’s guards combined for a shockingly low four assists in the game compared to an also-low eight turnovers. The Cougars are fortunate to win a game against anybody with that former statistic.
BYU BIG MEN
Overall, the Cougar big men really took a beating in this game. San Francisco’s top three bigs combined for 51 points and 26 rebounds, while BYU’s trio tallied just 14 points and 17 rebounds.
Not only did the Dons’ post players score 51 points, they did so on just 32 shot attempts. Eric Mika, Nate Austin and Josh Sharp were bad on defense, looking lost and slow much of the time while committing bad fouls.
Mika, who fouled out, seemed to be as much of a hindrance as a help in the game, as the Cougars were outrebounded in the game by 11 and gave up 16 offensive rebounds to the Dons. Often this season, BYU seems to be a better rebounding team when Mika is not in the game.
Thanks to good shooting by its guards and bad shooting by its opponent’s guards, BYU was able to win despite its frontcourt being outplayed Thursday night.
The best thing Rose did versus San Francisco was stick with Carlino for 27 of the final 32 minutes in the game. He also stuck with the man-to-man defense, which cut down the Dons’ 3-point attempts. This was key since the Dons made 50 percent of the threes they did take (5-of-10).
If someone would have told Rose before the game that his team would have twice as many turnovers as assists and give up 16 offensive rebounds while getting outrebounded by 11 overall, he probably would have said they would need to shoot 60 percent to win.
What he couldn’t have guessed is that the Cougars would get 37 free-throw attempts and make 28 of them (75.7 percent).
Against the Dons, the Cougars were essentially what they’ve been all season: a guard-dominated team with major depth, consistency and foul trouble issues in the frontcourt; a bad offensive team in the half court; a team that plays soft defense; a team with wild fluctuations in minute distribution; and a team that has to shoot the ball really well to win.
SAN FRANCISCO OVERALL
San Francisco is a rugged group with surprising athleticism. The Dons had a nice three-game stretch to begin January, beating Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Pacific. They certainly look capable of competing to be the fourth-best team in the WCC.
Senior forward Cole Dickerson is a skilled player down low who averages 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He was a monster versus BYU.
The Cougars are lucky senior point guard Cody Doolin, probably the Dons’ best player, decided to quit the team after just four games this season. If he had been around, the Cougars would have had a tough time winning this game with the way they played.
Nate Gagon is a published sports, music and creative writer. He is also a wholehearted father, grateful husband and ardent student of life. He shoots roughly 94% from the free-throw line and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or @nategagon.