PROVO — Don’t look now, but despite all of BYU's struggles this season, the Cougars are currently close to the top of the West Coast Conference standings.
After an 80-74 victory over Santa Clara Saturday night at the Marriott Center, BYU improved to 3-1 in league play, just a half-game behind No. 5 Gonzaga (3-0).
“It was a hard-fought game. I’m happy for the win,” said coach Dave Rose. “Like I told our guys, at the end of the night there will be two teams in the league with three wins, and one of them will be us.”
Question is, can the Cougars remain in the league's upper echelon? Next up is another difficult road swing, as they visit Pepperdine (2-2) Thursday and San Francisco (2-1) Saturday.
Last Saturday, the Waves won at San Diego, 76-71, while the Dons fell at home to the Zags, 96-83.
Certainly, BYU is feeling much better about itself than it was a week ago — when it got thumped by 22 points at Saint Mary’s — after beating Portland and Santa Clara.
“It’s a good response to a tough game last week. But our guys came back and battled and we got two big home wins," Rose said. "Now we’ll look forward to taking this thing back on the road and see how we can do. Two good teams. Pepperdine won at San Diego. San Francisco is one of the top teams in the league. We look forward to that.”
Early last week, there was an internet report that junior guard Jahshire Hardnett had quit the team and was transferring. Whatever the issue, it was resolved, though Hardnett missed his team’s games this week due to a hand injury suffered at Saint Mary’s. His status is uncertain.
“It’s in the hands of the doctor now,” Rose said of Hardnett’s injury. “Once he gets cleared, we’ll get him out there and get rolling.”
Yes, a week that began with some turmoil ended well for the Cougars.
“It seems like every other week’s a dramatic week. Everybody’s got stuff going on at all times. Life has a lot of ups and downs,” said forward Luke Worthington, who scored a season-high 13 points against Santa Clara. “So you’ve got to balance it the best you can. Fortunately, we have a great group of guys you can rely on, whether it’s on the court or off the court. We were able to come together as a team and be successful and go 2-0 this week. It was awesome.”
Against Santa Clara, BYU relied on its defense.
“One of our points of emphasis on this game was 40 minutes of defense,” said guard TJ Haws, who finished with 16 points and eight assists. “We knew they were going to run their stuff and run their stuff well. It’s great for us to have to guard great shooters like that. We were up for the challenge and we did a good job.”
Yoeli Childs poured in a game-high 27 points, including three 3-pointers. Haws nailed a 3-pointer with 1:33 remaining that helped clinch the win.5 comments on this story
What did that victory do for BYU?
“I just believe that after a long stretch and maybe at some times feeling a little bit sorry for ourselves that we have to go back out on the road again, but the fact we were able to come home and win two games with the tough experience that we had with 29 days away (from home),” Rose said, “I think that’s a real positive energy-builder for our group. We’ll look forward to getting back here in a week, but we’re excited about our opportunity next week.”