Every time it seems like the BYU basketball team may be ready to settle for a season of comfortable mediocrity, it pulls something like this: An 83-67 walloping of UTEP.
Playing with as much intensity as they have shown all season, the Cougars held the Miners to 37 percent shooting from the field and outrebounded them 42-32 Thursday night in the Marriott Center. Afterward, the players themselves seemed a little amazed at their play."We just seemed to have a little something extra out there tonight," said guard Nathan Call.
Nobody's a better example of that something "extra" than Call. Coming into the game shooting 35 percent from the field, he hit five of seven shots against UTEP - including three-for-three from three-point range - for a total of 13 points and five assists.
"People wanted Nathan Call out of there, but give the guy credit," BYU Coach Roger Reid said. "He's hung in there, and tonight he played very well."
The most impressive Cougar, on a night when just about everybody in white played impressively, was forward Steve Schreiner. He pounded the offensive boards and hit turnaround jumpers virtually at will, finishing with 24 points (on 11-of-17 shooting) and 12 rebounds. When he left the game for good with one minute left, the crowd of 18,578 gave him a standing ovation.
"Everybody talks about Shawn Bradley," said UTEP Coach Don Haskins, "but Schreiner is really improved over a year ago."
Another Cougar who had a big night was freshman forward Kenneth Roberts. Passing deftly from the high post and showing more confidence on offense, he had six assists to go along with his 10 points and six rebounds.
Bradley had a relatively quiet night, with 15 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots, but his presence was noticed by Haskins.
"Even if he's not scoring points, he causes a lot of problems," Haskins said.
Speaking of not scoring points, how about those Miners? They actually had to improve their shooting in the second half to reach 37 percent, after bricking their way to 32 percent shooting in the first half. Leading scorer Henry Hall led the way. After averaging 13.1 this season and 20-plus in the Miners' last three games, Call and guard Scott Moon held Hall to a 1-of-14 shooting night.
UTEP center David Van Dyke also had a rough night, being on the receiving end of several Bradley elbows. At 6-foot-8, Van Dyke's face just happens to be right at Bradley's post-rebound elbow level. Bradley said the contact was strictly incidental ("I've always figured that was my territory"), while Van Dyke took exception and threw a few elbows in return. Twice during the game the officials stopped play to exhort the combatants to cool it, and during the first such pause Bradley tried to shake hands with Van Dyke but the Miner center declined.
Haskins said he sensed early on that this was going to be a bad night for the Miners.
"We were out of the game in the first two minutes," he said. "They just totally dominated us."
Haskins may be excused for his slight exaggeration. The fact is, although the Cougars never trailed, they still led by just two nearly seven minutes into the game. But over the next three minutes Call and Schreiner each hit two field goals as BYU outscored UTEP 10-2 for a 10-point lead, and the closest the Miners got the rest of the way was seven.
As an example of how close a game it wasn't, picture this: With seven and a half minutes left in the game, Reid was actually smiling and giving a sly wink to someone at courtside. Only Reid knows for sure, but it looked like one of those "This baby's in the bag" winks.
For most of the second half, the BYU lead was double digits, reaching as high as 20 with 2:11 left to play. It ended up as the Cougars' second-biggest margin of victory this season.