he bench played really well for us (against Gonzaga). Brock coming off the bench, I think really helped our bench. When the bench is playing really well, it's a big lift for us. —Noah Hartsock
PORTLAND, Ore. — So this is life on the bubble, perched precariously somewhere between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT.
That's the position BYU has put itself in. After dropping a pair of home games to Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary's in recent weeks, the Cougars (19-6, 7-3) bounced back with an 83-73 triumph over No. 24 Gonzaga Thursday at the Marriott Center, marking their first victory over a ranked team this season.
"I think they responded well to disappointment and got back on the right track," coach Dave Rose said of his team.
Still, BYU's NCAA Tournament at-large fate remains uncertain.
"I think it's a game-by-game type of thing. (Tournament projections) can change pretty easily, especially right there on the bubble, if you have a good win or not," said forward Noah Hartsock, who recorded a double-double with 24 points and 14 rebounds against the Bulldogs. "We've got to make sure to take care of business. I mean, we're in a tough situation right now. I think this is when we start playing our best basketball. This game (against Gonzaga) will help give us confidence and help us play well."
The Cougars understand that any loss going forward could cause their bubble to burst.
BYU continues West Coast Conference play tonight (8 p.m., MST, BYUtv) when it invades the Chiles Center for a meeting with Portland (6-17, 3-7).
The Cougars are seeking their 20th victory of the season, and their seventh consecutive 20-win season.
Portland is led by sophomore forward Ryan Nicholas, who averages a team-high 11.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The Pilots downed Santa Clara Thursday, 84-78, on the road, to snap a six-game losing streak.
Rose changed his starting lineup against Gonzaga, starting Anson Winder in place of Brock Zylstra, who came off the bench. Winder scored 10 points to go along with four rebounds, five assists and three steals while Zylstra scored four points and grabbed four rebounds. Winder is expected to start again tonight.
"We really need a guy consistently to come off the bench and help us," Rose explained, adding that not having injured forward Stephen Rogers on the bench has left a void. "Stephen got hurt and we've waited and waited for him to come back. Brock is one of our best shooters. He's a guy who would respond really well to that spot and that challenge. Anson, the last three games, has been really good defensively, as far as his effort is concerned. I thought if we could start Anson, he could get his hands on a couple of balls and we could get some steals, that would help us early. He responded really well. Both responded really well."
"The bench played really well for us (against Gonzaga)," Hartsock said. "Brock coming off the bench, I think really helped our bench. When the bench is playing really well, it's a big lift for us."
BYU continues to struggle with its 3-point shooting, hitting just 3-of-12 against the Bulldogs. The Cougars are 14-of-85 in their last five games from behind the arc.
"I have confidence that these guys are going to make them. That's how we play," Rose said. "We'll fight through this. The fact that we're not shooting our best in this little stretch and we've been able to continue to win games tells a lot about the competitive spirit of this group."
NOTES: Rogers has both practiced and missed practice this week. He had fluid drained from his knee Thursday and missed the Gonzaga game … Portland lost at Utah in December, 72-67 … Winder has had at least three steals in three straight games … Hartsock is No. 40 all-time at BYU in scoring (1,064 points) and needs just five points to surpass Keena Young (1,068) to take over the No. 39 spot.
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Cougars on the air
BYU (19-6, 7-3) at
Portland (6-17, 3-7)
Tonight, 8 p.m., MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM)