PROVO — Well, Thursday was a wacky night in the West Coast Conference.
No. 22 Gonzaga fell at Portland, 82-73, marking the Bulldogs’ first setback to the Pilots in more than a decade.
Meanwhile, Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge knocked down a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining to lift the Broncos to a huge road win at Saint Mary's, 57-55.
Also that night, BYU defeated a short-handed Pepperdine team, 84-72, at the Marriott Center, though it wasn’t easy.
With five minutes remaining, the Cougars were clinging to a two-point lead before guard Tyler Haws erupted for 11 points in a 2 1/2-minute stretch (he finished with a game-high 35) to put some distance between BYU and the Waves. Pepperdine played without two injured starters.
The Cougars (10-7, 2-2), who started WCC play with two losses in a row, will continue to try to climb back into the league race Saturday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) when they host Loyola Marymount.
The Lions (10-7, 2-3), who lost at San Diego on Thursday, 74-67, defeated BYU in their conference opener, 87-76, on Dec. 28.
Now, two weeks later, the Cougars are starting Skyler Halford, Matt Carlino is coming off the bench, and freshman forward Eric Mika is injured.
Mika was sidelined for Thursday’s win with a hip injury he sustained a week ago against San Diego. He is questionable for Saturday’s game.
“He doesn’t feel like he has a lot of power in his leg,” coach Dave Rose explained Thursday night. “He’ll get more treatment. He’ll get more treatment (Friday and Friday night) and see how he feels on Saturday.”
Added Rose: “The bottom line is, the pain seems to be secondary as far as the way it was (last) Saturday night. Now it’s just trying to get some explosion in his leg and being able to play where he is free from pain and soreness and actually has some power in his leg.”
Thursday’s victory “should give us some confidence” that the Cougars can win without Mika, Rose said.
Still, BYU's interior defense struggled at times with Mika on the bench.
“Our guards did a good job in the second half of covering down on the post,” Rose said. “We had four guards in there, basically. Instead of bringing a second big guy, we were covering down with the guards, and I thought that was pretty effective at times.”
Haws said his team has been improving on the defensive end the last two weeks.
“We’ve really been putting a focus on defense in practice and trying to get better,” he said. “We’re not quite there. We still have a lot of things to get better at. But I think we’re making strides.”
Rose said Halford’s defense has impressed him.
“Defensively, he plays with so much energy and so much detail to our game plan and trying to execute it,” Rose said. “ He doesn’t do everything right, but he sure tries.”
The last time BYU and LMU met, freshman guard Evan Payne scored a career-high 27 points, including five 3-pointers. Point guard Anthony Ireland had 14 points and nine assists.
“Anthony Ireland may be as good as any point guard on the West Coast,” Rose said. “He can really control a game.”
The Lions, who have lost three straight games after starting WCC play 2-0, are expected to test the Cougars again.
“We’ve got our hands full. This team does what is really difficult for us,” Rose said. “They spread us out. They isolate us. And they love to play one-on-one. It’s hard to give help because they’re spacing so good. They have three post guys that demand real attention.”
After Saturday, BYU’s next four games will be on the road, with contests at San Francisco, Santa Clara, Portland and Gonzaga.
Currently, Gonzaga and San Francisco sit atop the WCC standings with 4-1 records.