He was a beast out there. —Yoeli Childs on Elijah Bryant
LAS VEGAS — BYU guards buried the effort meter in the Cougars’ 85-79 quarterfinal win over San Diego at the Orleans Arena Saturday.
Elijah Bryant was on fire. Jahshire Hardnett got in attack mode. TJ Haws got slippery good late. McKay Cannon then came off the bench and played like the claw-wielding Wolverine.
The result was the No. 3 seed Cougars shook off a slow start to race to a 17-point lead before withstanding a late 9-0 San Diego run that tied the game at 71 with 3:15 to play. BYU then took control and finished on a thundering two-hand slammer by Yoeli Childs.
What it all meant is BYU absolutely approached and played this game in tournament mode, kicking off March with a lot of do-or-die emotion, delivering a win over a Toreros team that nearly beat Gonzaga last week in Navy Town.
“It was our penetration game,” said Hardnett.
Indeed, BYU’s game plan was to go on the attack, get in the paint, come off ball screens with aggression and try to get to the line.
It worked almost to perfection, especially with Bryant, whom USD had no answer for once he got his stride, more than a point per minute.
Before Bryant fouled out with two minutes to play, he made 10 of 13 shots, 3 of 4 from beyond the arc for 27 points in just 26 minutes of play. Bryant sat eight minutes of the first half with his second foul after leading BYU back from an 18-13 deficit to its first lead with a 9-0 run.
Afterward, the first thing Childs (22 points, 8 rebounds) did when he sat down in the press room was shake his head as he inspected at the stat sheet and Bryant’s final line.
“I wasn’t surprised. It was kind of crazy,” said Childs, reciting Bryant’s numbers as if a launch code.
“He was a beast out there. I just love watching him, Sometimes I feel like a fan seeing the things he does like LeBron James, attacking the rim and finishing. I’m so impressed and so proud of my guy right here.”
Then there was Cannon, who came off the bench revved up in true March mode. Cannon enters the game like it's his last dribble on earth.
Late in the first half, he missed a tough under pressure layup and ended up on his belly out of bounds as USD big man Yauhen Massalski grabbed the rebound. Cannon jumped back up, stole the ball from Massalski, faked a shot and dished the ball to Dalton Nixon, who ended up making a bucket to tie the game at 31.
“I should have made the layup, so I had no choice but to get up and make the steal and got it. All I was thinking about was getting up off the floor. Anytime you can make an extra play for a teammate it’s a lot of fun.”
Nixon, the recipient, said he and Cannon have chemistry because they play together against the starters every day.
“When me and him are in the game, we have a lot of energy,” said Nixon. “I killed the assist but got the rebound. He and I have a real unique opportunity to bring energy on both ends of the court.”
BYU head coach Dave Rose said the way BYU is put together and how good San Diego is defensively in guarding the 3-point line, the Cougars had to find a way to make the defense pay. He had his guards do drills through the week to practice playing through contact.
The result is BYU got very aggressive. The 85 points Saturday against one of the best defenses in the league was 11 more than the 74 in the first USD meeting in Provo and 23 more than the Cougars scored in a loss on the Toreros home court Feb. 17.
BYU guards bit down on their mouth guards in Las Vegas.
“They really stepped up to the challenge on how physical they are,” said Rose.
“Knowing they were really going to hug our post guys, very seldom do they get out and help the perimeter out guys had to take advantage of that. The other thing is you really hope you are going to get fouls called because it is physical. Both teams were called for about 25 fouls each."
With Bryant fouled out, Haws took over as catalyst, driving, scoring and getting to the line where he made 7 of 8 free throws, a bunch of key, ice-type ones late.
Concluded Rose, “When we get to the free-throw line, it is really good for our offense. TJ got isolated and made a few jumpers and got to the line. That’s what we need to do.”