Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Matt Carlino (10) pushes the ball up court against San Diego Toreros guard Johnny Dee (1) in Provo Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011.

SAN DIEGO — A week after BYU managed to overcome a double-digit second-half deficit and pull out a dramatic win at Pepperdine, the Cougars couldn't duplicate that feat Thursday at San Diego.

BYU watched its NCAA tournament at-large hopes take a huge hit with a stinging 74-68 setback to the Toreros before a crowd of 3,296 at Jenny Craig Pavilion.

USD nearly upset No. 6 Gonzaga here last Saturday, and the Toreros, who led by as many as 11 in the second half, weren't about to let another big one get away from them.

"They're just a good team," said Cougar guard Tyler Haws, who scored a game-high 27 points. "They made the plays down the stretch to stretch their lead to win the game."

For BYU, it was a case of too many defensive lapses, poor shooting and untimely turnovers.

"It wasn't our best game, that's for sure," said coach Dave Rose.

BYU fell to 18-7 overall and 8-3 in the West Coast Conference. San Diego improved to 13-12 and 6-4.

USD guard Johnny Dee, who started Thursday despite suffering an ankle sprain last Monday, played 36 minutes and scored a team-high 19 points, including three 3-pointers.

With 3:45 remaining, Dee's deep 3-pointer gave USD a 67-62 lead, right after the Cougars had clawed back to within two points.

"He's a great player. You've got to be aware of where he is on the floor," said BYU forward Brandon Davies, who recorded his fourth straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. "It's hard to get him stopped when you lose him. He creates openings for other guys on his team because he's drawing so much attention."

The Cougars trailed 69-64 when Matt Carlino missed a 3-pointer with a little more than two minutes remaining, and the Toreros were then up 71-64 with one minute left.

In the final 60 seconds, BYU missed four straight shots before Haws nailed a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to make it 71-68 for USD. Then Dee hit 1 of 2 free throws to put the Toreros up by four with seven seconds remaining.

Carlino dribbled into frontcourt and tried to hand the ball off to Haws, but instead the ball bounced out of bounds. Dee drilled two more free throws in the closing seconds.

"I think maybe he thought I was going back door," Haws explained of the turnover on the last possession. "It was a miscommunication. We didn't lose the game on that possession. It was lots of plays before that."

The Cougars were outshot, 50 percent to 42 percent, and outrebounded, 41-34. Going into the game, USD was No. 8 in the WCC in rebounding.

"They outhustled us on the boards," Haws said. "We've got to get meaner inside. … There were a lot of loose balls that we should have had. We've got to be aggressive on both ends of the floor. We can't trade baskets and expect to win. It's something we have to improve on. … Our team's got to get more intense on defense."

Meanwhile, BYU made just 11 of 22 shots from the free-throw line.

"They executed down the stretch pretty well. We got them in a place where they were on their heels," Rose said. "Then Johnny Dee hit a huge shot late in the shot clock. It just seemed like we were having a hard time getting into a flow in this game, especially offensively. We had a lot of opportunities in transition and we had good looks, but we didn't convert. We got to the free-throw line and had a hard time converting there."

BYU opened strong over the first 10 minutes of the game, but USD had its way with the Cougars over the final 10 minutes of the first half.

BYU took control early, seizing an 18-10 lead at the 12-minute mark after a Carlino steal and pass to Haws, who dunked the ball.

But over the next several minutes, USD went on a 13-2 run that allowed the Toreros to take a 23-20 advantage. The Toreros extended their lead to as many as six, 38-32, with two minutes left in the first half. USD had a 40-36 lead at intermission.

"We got a lot of baskets early in transition. A couple of offensive fouls kind of slowed us down as far as our aggressiveness and ability to attack," Rose said. "The second 10 minutes of the first half we were having a hard time getting stops. They seemed to be scoring at will in the post."

The Cougars gave up 15 turnovers, including eight in the first 20 minutes.

"We made some knucklehead plays in the first half," Haws said.

In the second half, Davies got loose and scored 14 points, including eight straight during one stretch midway through the half.

Meanwhile, USD's Ken Rancifer knocked down three 3-pointers in the second half en route to 13 points in that period.

BYU hosts San Francisco on Saturday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv).