No. 7 San Diego (19-13) or No. 6 Santa Clara (16-14) vs. No. 3 BYU (19-12)
Saturday, 10 p.m. MST
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LAS VEGAS — BYU enters the West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena looking to end a couple of prolonged droughts.
The Cougars haven’t won a conference tournament since 2001, and they haven’t gone to the NCAA Tournament since 2015.
Of course, BYU can end both dry spells by winning the WCC Tournament championship and earning the league's automatic bid to the Big Dance. Capturing the WCC Tournament title is the Cougars' only hope for getting to the NCAA Tournament.
“That for sure motivates me. It motivates a lot of our guys,” said forward Yoeli Childs of trying to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his career. “I think back to when I was a kid watching just March Madness and being in awe watching all these games and great players. I always looked at it and thought, ‘I can’t wait until that’s me.’ It definitely drives us and motivates us to get to that level.”
Reality is, BYU’s odds of claiming the WCC title — and returning to the NCAA Tournament — are about as long as their postseason droughts.
Top-seed Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the nation and has won six consecutive conference tournament crowns and 16 of the last 20.
“They’re not going to lose,” said Cougar coach Dave Rose. “You have to beat them.”
BYU fell to the Zags in last year’s WCC championship game. The Cougars have advanced to the WCC title tilt two other times against Gonzaga, in 2014 and 2015.
This time, No. 3 seed BYU meets the winner of Friday night’s late game between No. 6 Santa Clara and No. 7 San Diego in the quarterfinals Saturday (10 p.m., MST, ESPN2). The Cougars are also seeking their 20th victory of the season.
The winner of Saturday’s game faces No. 2 Saint Mary’s in Monday’s semifinal matchup.
What will BYU need to do to reach the championship game again?
“Just play how we’ve been playing. You’ve got to play like yourselves. There’s going to be ups and downs. This team has seen a lot of ups and downs,” Childs said. “We’ve been at the highest of highs in some of our big games and the lowest of lows in some of those losing streaks. The key is to be consistent and to be ourselves and look like us. Coach says that a lot, that we need to look like us and look how we look in practice and not try to do it yourself. To win a championship, it’s hard. It takes everybody. No one player can do it by himself. If we play together, I think we can take care of business.”
BYU played Santa Clara just once this season, downing the Broncos 80-74 in Provo on Jan. 8. Guard TJ Haws hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 remaining to help lift the Cougars to the win. Santa Clara is led by guard Tahj Eaddy, who averages 15.3 points per game.
BYU swept San Diego this season, rallying from a 14-point second-half deficit to win 88-82 in overtime on Feb. 14 at Jenny Craig Pavilion. The Cougars beat the Toreros again last Saturday at the Marriott Center, 87-73, in the regular-season finale.
In Thursday’s first-round WCC Tournament game, San Diego defeated No. 10 Portland 67-47. Isaiah Pineiro recorded his 16th double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“Santa Clara, we haven’t played in a while. It’s interesting how you try to divvy up the emphasis. Most of this week it’s been on us and trying to get our guys back into a real positive mindset,” Rose said. “We had three or four weeks where we played really good basketball. And the week where we took the two losses … 30 minutes of the San Francisco game was as good as we’ve played maybe. Thirty minutes against Gonzaga was way better than the first time we played them. With 10 minutes to go, it was a 10-point game and it got away from us. We’ll concentrate on the positive things and challenge the guys to be the best we can.”9 comments on this story
Yeah, it’s been a while since BYU has gone to the NCAA Tournament and it’s been even longer since it’s won a conference title. The Cougars would need to win three straight games to end those droughts. Odds are certainly stacked against BYU.
But there's always hope.
“That’s what so exciting about March. You lose and you go home; you’re done,” Childs said. “We have so many winners on our team. We have guys that have won state championships, guys that have really excelled in these types of games. I think that really translates.”