BYU basketball: Surging Cougars to take small break before big regular-season finale at San Diego
PROVO — In each of the past seven weeks, BYU has played two games.
But in the final week of the regular season, the Cougars play just once. While BYU will take advantage of a Thursday bye to rest and heal up, there’s plenty at stake Saturday (2 p.m. MST, TWC) at San Diego.
If the Cougars (20-10 overall, 12-5 in the West Coast Conference) can beat the Toreros in the regular-season finale, they will clinch the No. 2 seed in the WCC tournament, which tips off next week at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
BYU has won three consecutive contests, including last Thursday’s win over Gonzaga and last Saturday’s 89-72 rout of Portland.
“We’ll take this momentum and see if it can help us at San Diego,” said coach Dave Rose. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”
The Toreros are coming off a big 69-66 upset of the Zags late Saturday night at Jenny Craig Pavilion. It marked San Diego’s first win over the Bulldogs in six seasons.
“This is one of my greatest experiences as an athlete right there with the Little League World Series,” said USD guard Johnny Dee, who scored a team-high 16 points. “To beat a top 25 team, I’m so pumped now.”
San Diego (16-14, 7-10) sits in seventh place in the WCC standings.
The Cougars lead third-place San Francisco (18-10, 11-5) and trail first-place Gonzaga (23-6, 13-3). The Bulldogs, mired in a two-game losing streak, visit Pacific and Saint Mary’s this week. They need one more win to secure the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
BYU fell at San Diego last season, 74-68, and the Cougars lost again to the Toreros in the WCC tournament, 72-69.
“It was a tough road trip for us last year (at San Diego),” Rose recalled. “Hopefully we can go down there and play well.”
In January, BYU crushed San Diego at the Marriott Center, 87-53.
As the regular season winds down, the Cougars have seen a lot of different players step up in recent games.
Guard Matt Carlino tied his career-high with 30 points, and knocked down a career-high eight 3-pointers, against Portland. Anson Winder, who has started the last two games, scored 17 and 19, respectively, against Gonzaga and Portland.
“I feel like we’re getting better at this point in the year. I think we’re all having fun and really enjoying playing together because we don’t have much basketball left,” Carlino said. “I feel like we’re growing a lot. We’re having the most fun at this point in the year, which is really important. Sometimes it feels like a grind this late in the year. But for us, I feel like we’re really clicking and having fun together.”
Rose changed his staring lineup a couple of times last week, inserting Winder for Skyler Halford, and starting either Josh Sharp or Luke Worthington for Eric Mika, who is now coming off the bench.
“We’ve had a lot of different looks, a lot of different groups,” Rose said. “I think our guys are playing together really well. They’re also playing well individually, which is what we have to have at the end of the year. You can’t just rely on one or two guys. You have to have a bunch of guys contributing and playing well. We’ve improved in that area.”
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