BYU just doesn't understand how the WAC works.
You see, teams aren't supposed to win here in The Pit, especially when the team is young and inexperienced and gives up 32 points to theLobos' top scorer and loses its own top scorer and rebounder to early foul trouble.
But win under those conditions is what BYU did here Thursday night, using poise, good shooting and military-like execution for an 83-76 victory over a New Mexico team that had won six of its last seven games.
BYU Coach Roger Reid said the game plan was to concede points to New Mexico center Luc Longley and shut down the rest of the Lobos - the same plan that resulted in a Cougar victory a month ago in Provo.
Once again it worked to perfection, as Longley scored a career-high 32 while his teammates shot just 42 percent from the field.
The most impressive aspect of this victory was that the Cougars did it with 7-6 center Shawn Bradley playing less than seven minutes. Bradley got his third foul 6:48 into the first half, and spent the rest of the game spectating. Reid said he would have used Bradley in the second half, but he never needed him.
The reason he didn't need him was Gary Trost, the guy expected to replace Bradley as BYU's starting center next season when Bradley goes on an LDS mission. The way Trost has played lately, he may be ready for that starting job this season. Over BYU's last five games, Trost has outscored (64-52) and outrebounded (33-31) Bradley. This time, Trost had 17 points and five rebounds and earned the praise of New Mexico Coach Dave Bliss.
"Trost would start for most teams in the WAC," Bliss said.
Bliss also complimented BYU's game plan.
"They had a lot of answers tonight," he said.
Bliss was referring to BYU's ability to successfully take advantage of any opportunity the Lobos gave them. When New Mexico made it tough going for BYU's inside players in the first half, four BYU guards combined to hit their first seven three-point shots. With the lead in the second half, BYU did a remarkable job of eating time on each possession, working the shot clock to less than 15 seconds before shooting.
And throughout the game, BYU repeatedly declined to fold despite numerous Lobo invitations to do so. For instance: Five minutes into the game, with BYU leading 14-10 and Kenneth Roberts already on the bench with three fouls, Bradley gets his second foul and Longley makes two free throws. Lobo guard Jimmy Taylor steals the ball from BYU's Nathan Call after the in-bounds pass and scores to make it 14-14. Then Taylor steals the next in-bounds pass and passes to Ike Williams, who is fouled by Bradley. The crowd is going nuts, sensing that this game is starting to go the Lobos' way.
But after a well-placed (for BYU) TV timeout, Trost comes in and scores on a baseline drive, after which Call steals the ball and feeds Scott Moon for a layup. Cougars back on top by four, Lobos wondering what they had to do to get these guys to wilt. They never did figure it out.
The rest of the half featured Longley's unstoppable turnaround baseline jumper versus the Cougars' three-point barrage. Reid said the long-range shots weren't premeditated.
"They were running three guys at Steve Schreiner and that left the perimeter guys open," he said. "People think we can't shoot the three, and I hope they keep thinking that."
At halftime BYU was in front 48-45, but the pace of the game seemed to favor the Lobos. New Mexico had not lost a game this season in which it had scored 80-plus points, and it seemed well on its way to that - and more. Longley alone scored 25 in the first period.
In the second half, BYU decided to take the ball right at Longley, figuring that it might hurt his offensive game if he had to work harder on the defensive end. Once again the plan worked, as Trost drew two fouls from Longley that sent the big redhead to the bench five minutes into the half. Longley returned two minutes later, but was nowhere near the defensive force he had been in the first half.
Midway through the half, the Cougs went to the ball-control game while the Lobos forgot that Longley was around. The New Mexico center took just five shots in the half, compared to 13 before intermission.
With two minutes left and BYU up 72-65, Bliss decided to see if the Cougs could win it at the foul line - a spot where BYU has had some problems. The Cougs obliged by missing the front ends of two one-plus-one free-throw situations, but on one of them two Lobos fought for the rebound, and lost it, and Schreiner picked it up and scored.
Then the Cougars settled down and made seven of their final 10 free throws to clinch it. The closest the Lobos got in that final sequence was five, on a three-pointer by Rob Robbins, but BYU scored five straight to put it away.
Schreiner was the Cougs' leading scorer, with 18, followed by Trost, Moon (who responded to a chat with assistant coach Charles Bradley by coming out of a slump to score 16), and Mark Heslop .
BYU's next poise test comes Saturday in the Huntsman Center against league-leader Utah.