PORTLAND — With less than one month remaining in the regular season, BYU coach Dave Rose continues to tinker with his starting lineup.
Still, against a beleaguered Portland team Thursday night at the Chiles Center, it may not have mattered who started for the Cougars.
BYU dominated from beginning to end, cruising to a resounding 83-48 victory over the Pilots, who sit in the West Coast Conference cellar with a winless record in league play. BYU, which led by as many as 37 late in the game, handed Portland its 11th consecutive loss.
“From start to finish, we were really dialed in on the defensive end. We had a great plan. They guys were well-connected," said coach Dave Rose. "Those (Portland) guards are really hard to handle. Defensively, that might have been as good as we’ve played all year long for a full 40 minutes.”
“The best thing we did tonight was on the defensive end. That was our No. 1 focus coming into this game, to have a defensive mindset," said guard TJ Haws, who scored a game-high 22 points. "All night, we guarded them extremely well. They have guys that can really shoot the ball. We shut them down early.”
Last weekend, Rose inserted freshman forward Gavin Baxter into the starting lineup and it proved to be a brilliant move, as Baxter recorded a career-high of 25 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Loyola Marymount.
Thursday, Rose put guard Nick Emery into the starting lineup — Emery’s first start of the season and his first since the 2016-17 season. Emery, who is one of the Cougars' best defensive players, didn’t have a career-high or even a season-high Thursday, but he made a significant impact for the Cougars with 8 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, a team-high five assists and four rebounds.
"Nick is one of those guys that brings that defensive mentality," Haws said. "He’s a hard-nosed guy that gets after it and brings the piece that unites our team.”
"He’s been playing really well and he had a good game the other night. TJ got in foul trouble last time we played Portland," Rose said of Emery. "I thought Nick would bring a really good presence defensively. His experience and the confidence he’s playing with, he can bring leadership to our guys and keep up dialed in and focused. He’s had a really good attitude all year.”
A lot of BYU players enjoyed strong individual performances against Portland.
Haws shot on 8 of 13 from the floor, including three 3-pointers. Yoeli Childs added 17 points to go along with 11 rebounds while Zac Seljaas chipped in 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. In his second start, Baxter had five points and seven rebounds.
As a team, BYU outscored Portland 31-8 in points off turnovers and 36-18 in the paint.
The Cougars shot 48 percent from the floor while the Pilots shot 32 percent.
With the easy victory, BYU (15-10, 7-3) maintained its hold on second place in the WCC standings behind league-leading Gonzaga while Portland fell to 7-18 overall and 0-10 in conference play.
“There’s a lot of games to be played," Rose said of his team being in second place. "It’s fun because every game is so important. That way, your guys feel like the next one is more important than the one you just played.”
Leading by 19 to start the second half, the Cougars didn’t let their foot off the accelerator, pushing their lead to 47-22 five minutes into the half after a pair of free throws by Childs.
BYU kept piling it on as the second half unfolded, having its way with Portland on both ends of the court. A 3-pointer by Connor Harding with 6:15 left lifted the Cougars to a 32-point lead — 71-39.
With Emery getting the starting nod, BYU jumped out to an early 12-6 lead, including a pair of 3-pointers by Haws. The Cougars continued to build their lead with a strong defensive effort and contributions from the bench.
A 6-0 run by the Cougars gave them a 21-10 advantage. BYU finished the half with a 17-3 run over the final five minutes as they lead 40-21 at the break — its largest lead of the first half. Included in that spurt were a pair of 3-pointers by Seljaas.32 comments on this story
“I liked the way we played as a team," Seljaas said. "At the start of the game, we weren’t hitting shots quite as much and that’s when teams put their heads down. But we were able to keep fighting. We came together as a team as the game went on. That’s what helped us the most.”
The 21 points scored by Portland are the fewest the Cougars have allowed in any half this season.
BYU scored 18 points off turnovers and outscored the Pilots 18-6 in the paint. The Cougars drilled six of 20 3-pointers in the half. BYU had 11 assists on 16 made field goals.
The Cougars host Pacific Saturday night at the Marriott Center.