PROVO — Usually at this point of the season, BYU coach Dave Rose tightens up his rotation. But thanks to his team’s depth, something else is happening.
“We’ve had teams where this time of year the roster is shrinking,” Rose said after his team’s 83-48 throttling of Portland Thursday night at the Chiles Center. “I think it’s expanding here. That’s a good sign for us.”
Rose gave junior guard Nick Emery his first start of the season and Emery gave the Cougars solid defense, a team-high five assists and eight points against the Pilots.
“I like how Nick played within himself, really aggressive, on attack,” Rose said.
The Cougars return home Saturday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv) to take on Pacific, which fell at Saint Mary’s, 78-66, Thursday to drop to 13-12 and 3-7 in the West Coast Conference.
BYU (15-10, 7-3) remains in second place in the WCC standings.
Emery scored a season-high 17 points and had five 3-pointers and four steals last week against Loyola Marymount. He missed the first nine games of the season due to a suspension.
Why did Rose decide to start Emery, in place of freshman Connor Harding, against Portland?
“A couple of things. He’s been playing really well and he had a good game the other night. This was a matchup situation. TJ (Haws) got in foul trouble last time we played Portland,” Rose said. “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 dialed in and focused. He’s had a really great attitude all year about what doing what the team needs.”
“Nick is one of those guys that helps bring that defensive mentality,” said Haws, who scored a team-high 22 points, including three 3-pointers against Portland. “He’s a hard-nosed guy that gets after it and brings the piece that kind of unites our team.”
“Nick’s playing awesome. He’s getting back to the way he has before. With what he’s gone through and everything, it’s awesome to see how far he’s come,” said guard Zac Seljaas, who scored 12 points against the Pilots. “He does so much for us. He has a high motor and he keeps going and it keeps us going as a team. He’s an X-factor that we have. It’s awesome to have him back.”
Meanwhile, Gavin Baxter has started two consecutive games with positive results. He had five points and seven rebounds against Portland.
“Gavin has given us really good minutes with his ability to defend and protect the rim,” Rose said. “He understands our defensive system so much better.”
Haws was the target of derision from the Portland student section throughout the game, even while he was on the bench.
“I knew it was coming,” Haws said. “But I thought I handled it pretty well with my performance.”
Yoeli Childs produced another double-double, recording 17 points and 11 rebounds. Jahshire Hardnett, who missed five games due to a hand injury, had three assists Thursday.
Rose also likes what seniors Luke Worthington and McKay Cannon provide.
“The leadership from Luke and McKay, our two seniors, has been tremendous as far as giving themselves to the team,” he said. “We’ve stumbled in a few games. But we’re finding, especially on the road where we’ve had issues, where our effort defensively was based on how well we were playing offensively, I think we’ve made a turn, we’ve made the switch. We can have some tough moments on offense but we’re still locked in on the defensive end.”
Thursday marked the second straight game that BYU has held an opponent to fewer than 50 points.
“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,” Haws said. “All night, we guarded them extremely well. We were all trying to help each other. They have guys that can really shoot the ball. We did a good job of shutting them down early. Our transition offense is getting much better. If we can get stops, it really gets us going offensively.”17 comments on this story
"In this environment, when you’re getting stops, you can have a tendency to get really selfish offensively," Rose said. "I felt like everybody did a good job of sharing the ball.”
The last time BYU played Pacific, back on Jan. 3 in Stockton, the Cougars built a big first-half lead and held on to edge the Tigers, 90-87.
“It will be a heckuva game,” Rose said of Saturday's rematch. “It was a heckuva game over there and it will be a heckuva game over here.”
Pacific (13-12, 3-7) at BYU (15-10, 7-3)
Saturday, 7 p.m. MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM