BOISE The 20th-ranked BYU Cougars are still in search of a true, meaningful road victory.
They couldn't find it in WAC territory Saturday night.
At the Taco Bell Arena, Boise State held off BYU with a furious second-half comeback and humbled the Cougars for the second year in a row, this time with a thrilling 73-70 victory.
The win lifted WAC leader BSU, picked to finish fifth, to 9-3, while the Cougars dropped to 10-3.
"This was a game where both teams made threes, there were dunks and it was a battle," said BSU coach Greg Graham, who earned his first win over a ranked team since upsetting Nevada in the 2005 WAC tournament.
The BYU loss was a carbon copy of setbacks with North Carolina and Michigan State. The Cougars simply hit a second half skid on both ends of the court and gave up the ghost while their opponent made more plays when it counted.
BSU outscored the Cougars 46-32 in the second half after BYU had control of the game with a 12-point first half lead and all the momentum before falling behind by eight in the final nine minutes.
"They made more plays than we did down the stretch," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "We had some guys play better than others and there was a stretch we didn't do very well on either end of the floor."
In the end, with BSU up 72-70, BYU center Trent Plaisted missed a two-foot jump shot that could have tied the game with 30 seconds to play. That misfire followed a wobbly miss and make from the free throw line by the Cougar junior.
BSU's Reggie Larry, who led the Broncos with 19 points, then converted the front end of his turn at the other end to push the lead to three and force BYU's Lee Cummard to make a 3-pointer with a few ticks on the clock to get to overtime. It didn't come 10 feet from the rim.
"I was just trying to get off a shot," said Cummard, who said his feet got tangled with a Bronco defender just as he launched the shot.
In the final 20 minutes, BSU simply outshot the Cougars (51 to 33 percent), played better defense and controlled the boards. To look at it another way, BYU had a couple of players making meaningful plays while the Broncos got their entire team involved.
"They outplayed us, simple as that," said Cummard, whose 26 points marked his fourth game over the 20-point mark. If it wasn't for Cummard and guard Sam Burgess, the Cougars would have been in deep mud.
Cummard made 9 of 14 field goals and all six of his free throws to go with six rebounds. Burgess was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, making all three from beyond the arc.
While Plaisted had nine rebounds, he made only 4 of 11 field goals to finish with nine points. He faced a single defender most of the night, primarily smaller Matt Nelson, who had 11 boards and finished a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor for 18 points.
Jonathan Tavernari, who led the Cougars against SUU last Saturday, struggled with 1-of-8 shooting, zip for 6 from beyond the arc.
"We didn't come to play, they did," said Cummard, who might as well have been trying to tote nearby Sun Valley skiers on his back by himself for all the good it did in the valley. "The team is going to learn a lot about themselves now," said Rose. "The true character of what a team is made of comes when you face some adversity."
Cummard hit six of his first eight shots to carry the Cougars in the first dozen minutes. Then freshman Jimmer Fredette knocked down two treys during a 13-0 Cougar run. The Cougars got hot when the Broncos went to a zone and busted through a BSU full-court press with some easy baskets to lead 38-27 at halftime.
The Cougars led by as many as 12 in the first half but the Broncos made a charge after the break when Tyler Tiedmeman and Matt Baushner knocked down treys. When Reggie Larry got loose for a pair of cherry pick lay-ins, the Broncos cut BYU's lead to 46-45, then darted from one to three points behind the Cougars the next five minutes.
Paul Noonan's 3-point bucket with 8:44 to play gave the Broncos their first lead of the night at 56-53. Anthony Thomas then hurled in a fall back-to-the floor trey to put BSU up 58-54 with 7:32 to play. The Broncos had outscored the Cougar 33-16 at that stage and the Cougars looked panicked.
"This was a quality win for our team," said Graham. "There is no reason we shouldn't be considered a contender for the league title."The Cougars play Loyola Marymount at home on Thursday.
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