LAS VEGAS — No doubt, San Diego entered the West Coast Conference Tournament this week having gone through a major ordeal.
The Toreros’ head coach, Lamont Smith, was placed on administrative leave after being arrested last Sunday. Assistant Sam Scholl was named acting head coach.
USD rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit to tie the game with three minutes left but BYU held on for an 85-79 victory at Orleans Arena.
“They play with a lot of heart. Occasionally, that heart turns into some chippiness,” Cougar forward Luke Worthington said of USD. “They’re had a rough go, especially losing their coach. It’s fun to watch how teams play, and I think they gave it their all tonight. I’m just glad they didn’t give too much because we were still able to snag the win.”
BYU was whipped by the Toreros two weeks ago in San Diego by 13 points.
“When we pulled San Diego as the team we were going to play, it was a mixed emotion because they’re a really good team,” Worthington said. “I don’t necessarily think they should have been that seed. We were just excited to get another shot at them and finish things off the way we prefer.”
BYU has reached the WCC semifinals six times in seven years. The only time it didn’t happen was in 2013, when San Diego upset the Cougars in the quarterfinals.
CLUTCH FREE THROWS: Worthington entered Saturday’s game shooting only 58 percent from the free throw line.
But he hit two big ones with 3:05 left in the game right after USD tied the score at 71.
“The last three weeks, we end every practice with our bigs making 50 free throws. At times, Luke’s the last one to finish,” said coach Dave Rose. “The last couple of weeks, he’s knocking those things in. It’s repetition, it’s confidence. He knows how big those free throws are for our team. I said, ‘This would be really great if you made both of these.’”
Guard Elijah Bryant said he likes how coaches simulate pressure situations in practice.
“If you miss, you have to run,” he said. “Coaches have done a good job of putting pressure on us in practice and allowing guys to make big shots.”
NIXON’S NICHE: BYU forward Dalton Nixon came off the bench and, as usual, he provided a big lift for the Cougars.
Nixon finished with seven points and six rebounds in 22 minutes of play. His hustle in the second half — diving on a loose ball — resulted in 3-pointer for Bryant to give BYU 57-43 advantage at the 12:31 mark of the second half.
TIP-INS: BYU shot 52 percent for the game compared to 47 percent for USD The Cougars suffered through a six-minute field goal drought late in the game until TJ Haws scored with 1:51 remaining to give BYU a 75-72 lead BYU outscored San Diego in the paint, 38-18.