With one player injured and two others off to shaky starts, BYU Coach Roger Reid looked to the end of his bench for some help.
He got it from Mark Santiago and Jeff Campbell, who before Thursday night had combined to average seven minutes per game. Against San Diego State they played 62 minutes, helping the Cougars defeat the Aztecs, 73-61.Santiago got the call six minutes into the game, replacing starting point guard Nathan Call. Santiago, a 6-foot-2 junior, responded with five rebounds - four of them on the offensive end - in the first half. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds - a figure Santiago said was probably his lifetime high on the boards.
And all this from a guy playing without a scholarship.
"He might earn one of those," Reid said. "It's good that he has something to work for."
Santiago said he wasn't completely surprised to get a chance to play.
"Coach played me with the first team all week, so I knew I was going to get more time," he said. "Still, it's tough to stay mentally prepared when you play two minutes a game."
Campbell got his chance because Jared Miller is injured and Kenneth Roberts has been struggling. Roberts started against the Aztecs but was pulled after just five minutes, moments after shooting an 18-foot airball. Roberts sat out the rest of the game, largely because Campbell was so effective. Campbell, a 6-9 freshman from Alabama, had seven points and three rebounds and, more importantly, played tough inside defense.
The accomplishments of Santiago and Campbell almost overshadowed another big night by Y. center Shawn Bradley. Playing against one of the WAC's best centers, 7-0 senior Marty Dow, Bradley scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting while holding Dow to 13 points on five of 12.
"It was different looking a guy in the neck," Dow said of playing against the 7-6 Bradley. "That's the first time that's happened to me."
Even Reid, who has been cautious about heaping too much praise too soon on Bradley, lauded this effort. "It might have ben his finest ballgame," the coach said. "Going down to the wire, he played strong and intense."
"Tonight we started playing with our hearts and minds," Bradley said, "instead of just our hearts or just our minds."
Bradley almost didn't get a chance to be a factor in this one. He sat out 12 minutes of the first half in foul trouble, leaving the game with his team down 11-10. SDSU's first three baskets came after BYU turnovers led to fast breaks, and it was looking like another 20-plus turnover night for the Cougs.
With Gary Trost filling in capably at center, the Cougars fell behind by as much as six before coming within two points at halftime, 33-31.
Reid sent his starters back out for the second half, with the exception of Campbell for Roberts. Six and a half minutes into the period, BYU was down by eight and laboring just to get shots off, much less make them.
Right about then, Reid decided to try Santiago and Call together in the backcourt, leaving shooting guards Scott Moon and Mark Heslop on the bench.
"We needed ballhandling more than we needed shooting," Reid said.
It took a couple minutes to click, but it eventually resulted in better ballhandling and perimeter defense against the Aztecs' Arthur Massey, who hit a couple of uncontested three-pointers early in the half.
With Bradley scoring 10 points in less than four minutes, BYU went on a 22-4 spree that gave them a 10-point lead with six minutes left. The Aztecs got to within three at the 4:36 mark, but three straight three-point airballs by Massey and Ray Barefield allowed BYU to push the lead back to 11 with less than two minutes to go.
It was all over then but for the foul shooting, a BYU weakness this season. After making 13 of their first 15 free throws, the Cougars managed made nine of 14 in the final five minutes. Not great, but good enough.