MORAGA, Calif. — A week ago, BYU guard Jahshire Hardnett returned to his home state and watched his team suffer a humbling 22-point loss at nationally-ranked Mississippi State.
To make matters worse, Hardnett was whistled for a technical foul in that game, drawing the ire of coach Dave Rose.
So Thursday night at Pacific, Rose didn’t start Hardnett for the first time this season. Hardnett said later he “was fine” with the decision, considering what had happened at Starkville, adding that he wants to do what’s best for the team.
Well, Hardnett didn’t start in the West Coast Conference opener, but he sure did finish.
In a reserve role, Hardnett scored 17 points — 14 in the second half — in 21 minutes of action. He knocked down 8 of 9 free throws, including four over the final 47 seconds, to help the Cougars beat Pacific, 90-87.
“Jahshire gave us an unbelievable game off the bench,” Rose said. "Jahshire was great. He gave us a huge spark and helped us get over the top.”
With the win, BYU (9-7, 1-0) snapped a three-game losing streak and earned its first true road victory this season.
“It definitely means a lot,” Hardnett said of the outcome. “That’s a big deal. It’s hard to get conference games on other people’s home court.”
Indeed, of the four WCC openers Thursday, BYU won the only road team to secure a win.
The Cougars will have a shot at another road victory Saturday (9 p.m., MST, ESPN2) when they visit Saint Mary’s, which lost 76-72 at San Francisco Thursday.
“I’m just happy we got out of that losing slump,” Hardnett said. “Hopefully, we can get over there, play our game, make some more 3s and more jump shots and more free throws and come out with a big win on the road.”
Since joining the league in 2012, BYU has just one victory at McKeon Pavilion, in 2014.
The WCC schedule-makers weren’t kind to BYU, which hasn’t played a home game since Dec. 12. Almost every season since joining the league, the Cougars have played the Gaels the first weekend of conference play — usually on the road.
“It will be a dogfight. They’ve had a few disappointing losses this year,” Rose said of Saint Mary’s. “One thing about (coach Randy Bennett’s) teams over the years, they very seldom get beat two times in a row. That will be our challenge now. But hey, our guys go into it with an attitude that we haven’t felt in a while. Confidence is such a big thing in this game. You only get confidence from one thing — that’s from winning. Other than that, you’re going to doubt a lot of things. Hopefully, we’ve got them all rounded up and we’ll go in there and give a great effort on Saturday.”
The Cougars drilled nine 3-pointers and rolled to a 21-point lead in the first half against Pacific, only to watch the Tigers come all the way back and take the lead briefly with 3:12 remaining in the game.
BYU made only 3 of 10 shots from the free throw line during a stretch in the second half but ended up hitting its final seven attempts from the charity stripe. Meanwhile, Pacific missed three crucial free throws in the closing minutes. Cougar guard Nick Emery buried a pair of free throws with 13.6 seconds remaining to give the Cougars a 3-point advantage.
In the end, Roberto Gallinat’s potential game-tying 3-pointer just before the final buzzer bounced off the rim.
Rose liked the resiliency of his team.
“You have a 21-point lead and you end up giving the lead up and not only got tied but they actually go ahead. Those are issues that you don’t like to see as a coach,” he said. “But this is a tough matchup for us. It’s been a tough matchup for us since they came into the league, how they play and who they play with. I knew when we were shooting the ball so well early and got that lead that there would be a pushback.”
A year ago, BYU lost at Pacific when Zac Seljaas missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer. But guard TJ Haws, who finished with a game-high 24 points, was unfazed.
“I remember last year but at no point was I thinking that we were going to lose this game,” he said. “You have to believe at all times. I thought we had guys make big shots down the stretch … That was big for us to just show a lot of heart down the stretch. We let them get back into it a little bit but every team makes runs. I thought we weathered the storm just fine. Down the stretch, we got some big stops. That’s huge for us and that gives us a lot of confidence heading forward.”
Yoeli Childs, who scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, fouled out with three minutes remaining and the Cougars trailing by one point, 79-78. In the waning minutes, BYU pulled out the win without their star forward.
“It’s really good for our team to be able to step up when we don’t have him on the floor,” Haws said. “I thought we did a good job of guarding and running our offense correctly. Guys stepped up and made big shots.”
Rose shuffled his starting lineup, replacing Hardnett and Seljaas with McKay Cannon and Luke Worthington.
“McKay and Luke brought great energy to start the game. We were moving the ball really well to start the game and we had a lot of energy on defense,” Rose said. “I thought we were locked in and ready to go right from the start."
Given the struggles his team has experienced over the past few weeks, Rose wanted a fresh look.
“The most important thing for us, starting a new year, starting in conference, was to just compete together as a group. Those two seniors, McKay and Luke, McKay’s one of our best game-prep guards … Luke is playing some of his best basketball,” he said. “I thought that if we got those two guys in the starting lineup that we would have a better chance of competing together. Zac had one of his best games of the year and he a couple of big shots. I wanted to have a different feel to our team instead of feeling sorry for ourselves because that’s kind of where we’ve been.”9 comments on this story
Who knows? A victory like that grinder at Pacific could do wonders for this team.
“We’ve had a three-game losing streak twice now this year. In both games after that, we’ve responded really well,” Haws said. “I think that shows a lot of heart and character about this team. That was really great for us. To get a road win for our first game in conference is really big for this team. Hopefully, we can take that momentum (into Saturday’s game).”
BYU (9-7, 1-0) at Saint Mary’s (9-7, 0-1)
- Saturday, 9 p.m., MST
- McKeon Pavilion
- TV: ESPN2
- Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM