There are pieces of this game that were really good for us. It just wasn’t a good enough 40-minute effort. —BYU coach Dave Rose
PROVO — In last Thursday’s 81-68 setback at No. 19 Saint Mary’s, BYU suffered its first West Coast Conference loss of the season.
The Cougars learned some lessons that coach Dave Rose hopes will help his team moving forward. BYU hosts Pacific Saturday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv).
The Tigers, led by first-year coach Damon Stoudamire — the former Arizona star who enjoyed a 13-year NBA career — earned their first WCC victory of the season with a 56-53 decision at San Diego.
The Cougars (11-5, 2-1) are facing a Pacific (7-9, 1-2) squad that handed them a stunning 77-72 loss last season in Provo — snapping BYU’s 17-game home-court winning streak, just days after the Cougars knocked off Saint Mary’s. Going into that contest, the Tigers had won just six games all year.
This season, junior forward Ray Bowles leads Pacific in scoring, averaging 14.1 points per game, followed by senior guard T.J. Wallace, who averages 13.4 points.
Against Saint Mary’s last Thursday, BYU had its lowest scoring game of the season. Despite the loss, Rose saw some bright spots in the performance and he also saw areas where his team needs to improve.
“There are pieces of this game that were really good for us. It just wasn’t a good enough 40-minute effort,” Rose said. “There were pieces where we were under control, we competed well, we challenged well. On the offensive end, a lot of it was us trying to force our way through something that wasn’t there. There were a lot of possessions defensively where we got the shot we wanted, they missed it and we didn’t get the rebound. When you’re playing a team that’s as efficient as this team is, you just can’t let it happen.”
Added Rose, “We needed to have more composure. The young guards tried to force some things in the second half. You can’t force your will on them. It’s just a good team. We need to be more in the mode of whatever they take away, we find the next guy.”
BYU forward Eric Mika scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against the Gaels, who were led by center Jock Landale, who had 26 points.
“We’ve got to stay positive, we’ve got to dissect it, figure out what we did wrong and what we did right,” Mika said about the defeat.
Mika, who played 29 minutes, was counted on to do a lot for the Cougars against Saint Mary’s.
“Their game plan was to guard Eric one-on-one and then suffocate everybody else. Eric benefited from that. He played really well and had a good night,” Rose said. “We’re trying to find that next guy. As hard as he was playing and as much as we were counting on him to rebound, defend the basket, protect the rim and score in 29 minutes — I bet he’s pretty exhausted right now. Hopefully, he can recover for Saturday.”
Thursday marked the return of sophomore guard Elijah Bryant, who hadn’t played since a loss to Valparaiso on Nov. 23. Bryant underwent knee surgery prior to the season and later dealt with knee problems that kept him out of action.
Against Saint Mary’s, Bryant scored 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, in 19 minutes.
“He got himself into some tough situations,” Rose said of Bryant. “I thought he got fouled a couple of times at the rim and should have got to the free-throw line. It was the best he’s looked since the surgery. We can build on that.”
Bryant had been practicing this week with the team and he knew he would play against Saint Mary’s. He entered the game early in the first half.
“I’m back to 100 percent,” Bryant said.
How hard was it to return to the court after a long layoff?
“It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be,” Bryant said. “I practiced a little bit this week. Once I got in, my natural ability took over.”
Meanwhile, junior forward Jamal Aytes did not travel with the team to Saint Mary’s due to an illness. Rose was hopeful that Aytes would recover in time to be available to play Saturday.