RENO, Nev. — There was both good news and bad news for BYU in its season-opening 86-70 loss at No. 7 Nevada on Tuesday night.
Among the positives? The Cougars hung in there with a top-10 opponent on the road for 30-35 minutes and received solid contributions from three freshmen — Gavin Baxter, Connor Harding and Kolby Lee — who certainly weren’t tentative in their collegiate debuts.
“All of them had really good poise to them as far as their presence. They all contributed and helped us,” coach Dave Rose said of the three freshmen. “We’re in the process of trying to build this team and develop a rotation and depth. I thought all three of them gave us good minutes.”
The biggest concern? BYU shot a dismal 6 for 31 (19.4 percent) from 3-point range against the Wolf Pack.
TJ Haws (1 for 5), Jahshire Hardnett (1 for 5), McKay Cannon (1 for 6) and Harding (0 for 4) all struggled from behind the 3-point stripe.
“We’ve just got to make shots. As a unit, we’ve got to have the confidence and the trust in each other that we’re going to knock those shots down,” said Hardnett, who scored a team-high 17. “We shot a lot of wide-open shots and missed. We shot a lot of contested shots and missed. We’ve got to have that confidence in each other that we’re going to make those shots.”
Rose is optimistic that his team’s shooting will improve.
“We do have good shooters. We run shooting drills in practice that we keep track of time and numbers made,” he said. “This group is, in all of those drills, way ahead of last year’s team and the year before. The numbers were all better. Hopefully, we can get that to transfer to game situations. If we had hit just a decent percentage — 34 to 38 percent of our 3s, we would have put this thing away and won (against Nevada).”
“We competed with those guys and we played hard enough to win the game,” Hardnett said. “But we didn’t make enough 3-pointers. I was more aggressive. I missed some shots and I took some shots that I shouldn’t have that put us in a predicament.”
Zac Seljaas, who didn’t shoot well from distance last season, drilled a pair of big 3-pointers, one in each half, and went 2 for 5 — an encouraging sign for BYU.
The Cougar freshmen, meanwhile, acquitted themselves well. Baxter scored four points and had four rebounds, Harding finished with five points and three boards, and Lee had two points and two rebounds.
“They were huge,” forward Yoeli Childs said of the freshmen. “Connor’s one of the biggest competitors that I know. He was frustrated after the game because he missed some shots. But I told him that this was his first game and he guarded one of the best players in the country.
"He did a phenomenal job. Gavin played within himself and had some offensive rebounds and played great," Childs continued. "And Kolby has kind of blown my mind based off the fact he just started practicing again with us last week with his foot injury. Those three are going to have awesome careers and they’re going to have awesome years this year.”
Childs recorded a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes as he was saddled with foul trouble. He picked up his third and fourth fouls in the first minute of the second half.
Officials called 27 fouls on the Cougars, and the Wolf Pack went 28 for 39 from the line. Nevada was whistled for 20 fouls, with BYU going 12 for 19 from the charity stripe.
“There were a couple of calls that didn’t go our way, but that’s beside the point. There were fouls that were called on them that shouldn’t have been called,” said Childs. “It’s not the officiating’s fault by any means. We’re too mature to get into foul trouble. I got into foul trouble early and that should never happen. That’s not on the refs. It’s on us. We’ve just got to learn from it.”
With Childs out for an eight-minute stretch in the second half, the Cougars stayed within striking distance.
“I was proud of my guys. This is a great team, a deep team,” he said. “It’s nice to know that if I get into foul trouble, the guys can stick with it and play well.”
“We found a way for us to play with (Childs) sitting down,” Rose said. The Cougars kept the game close until the final minutes.
With some minor rule changes during the offseason, Rose said, referees are “anxious” and calling a plethora of fouls.
“The difficult thing for the players is, we all know it’s going to change after a few weeks and it will get back to normal,” he said. “We’ve got to put up with it until it does.”
Tuesday’s opener was an opportunity for BYU to be tested against a talented opponent.
"We played hard enough and we had good enough fight to us," Rose said. "We just didn’t execute. It’s a shame because this was a winnable game for our guys. They’re really disappointed. There’s a lot of fight in this group. We’ve got to get this thing turned around and get back home and get ready for Friday.”
That’s when BYU hosts Utah Valley at the Marriott Center.
For the Cougars, it’s time to put this loss behind them and go back to work before the home opener.
“That’s the hardest part,” Childs said. “We have two more days of practice and all you can think about is getting on to the next one and getting that bad taste out of our mouths. We’ll be ready to go.”