Call me old school. Or just call me getting old. Upon further review of the final of the Saint Mary's-BYU basketball game Saturday night, I wasn't a big fan of seeing freshman center Eric Mika break into a choke signal after the Cougars won.

Do we really have to go into why putting two hands mockingly on one's own throat is bad form?

Though I'm also not totally hammering him — as some around BYU fandom and otherwise may consider doing — because who knows what moment (or series of taunts, perhaps) led up to that display of non-affection?

It's the same leeway, on first instinct, that I believed Marcus Smart deserved. I don't think Oklahoma State's star just went looking for someone to shove in the stands a few weeks ago. Something, someone pushed him to that point.

But it will be interesting to hear Mika's take on it, as I'm sure media will be requesting to talk to him about more than the foul trouble, five points and zero rebounds by BYU's freshman over the course of 17 scattered minutes he played at SMC when the team likely meets with media on Wednesday.

Truth is, Mika didn't quite earn the right to trash talk on his own merit. He's a good kid (I use "kid" merely because I'm nearly twice his age; don't read too much into it) who made a silly, unwarranted gesture. Same thing when Melvin Ejim offered up vulgar "you're No. 1" sign at the Marriott Center a few months ago on the way to a visiting team's win. The low road wasn’t worth traveling for either talented player.

Truth be told, in the hurry of writing after a wild game, I didn't see Mika look at someone on the baseline near BYU's bench and give his love to McKeon Pavilion and the Gaels. So it didn't cross my mind (or the other reporters there with me) to ask about the "situation" right after the game.

Ah, the beauty of television cameras and replay, and the Internet. Also, what a pain, right? It shed some negative light on the Cougars for a hard-earned, gritty 3-point win.

But here's what Mika did do that was a positive out of the whole thing:

He's building the Cougars into the West Coast Conference mix. The taunt, for better and worse, is part of the fabric of weaving an identity.

It's three years into this new league. It's about time to ruffle some feathers.

There are certainly some disappointing factors regarding BYU in the WCC. Crowds at various locales, and energy in them, leave something to be desired at most spots.

BYU isn't the meal ticket — or lightning rod — for other teams like it tended to be when BYU visited back in the Mountain West Conference days. There was a lot of aggravation to that for the Cougars. But also, the angst made it fun. The better BYU teams enjoyed that conflict, downright cherished it.

Gonzaga is still team No. 1 in the standings and the WCC hierarchy. It's also enemy No. 1 to the other programs. It draws the most opposing passion and hatred, which is still a unique situation for BYU — second fiddle.

I truthfully have no idea what was said to Mika that caused him to be such an angry smart aleck.

He’ll learn some restraint, though, and to let the play and the results do the talking.

Being liked isn't something that concerns Gonzaga. It shouldn't affect BYU, either. It didn't in the latter stages of the MWC days, when the Cougars irked just about everyone (and did in football for a lot longer).

It goes with the territory of being good.

Talk about choking: The Cougars are 2-0 against Saint Mary's, which is near the top of the standings. It's also 2-0 against San Francisco, which is with SMC in the mix. You've got to think BYU has a pretty good chance Thursday at home against Gonzaga. BYU is 7-0 in league games at the Marriott Center.

But BYU's gagged some road opportunities, and frankly not played even close to their level of capability in more than a few. That's choking, right?

It's odd to think BYU had a better shot of beating Wichita State or Oregon compared to the situations it's put itself in the closing minutes against also-rans like Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount or for that matter putting their hands around their own throats by wasting a seven-point overtime lead at Portland.

Take away some of those, um, chokes...and BYU might be looking at playing for a WCC title during the next two weeks.

Alas, BYU is still just trying to get a little standings distance on Saint Mary's and San Francisco with three games left to play in the regular season.

BYU is 10-5, the Gaels and Dons are both 9-5.

Gonzaga is 13-1 and can afford a loss in relation to the WCC race.

But BYU can't afford to lose. And not just because then there's again the chance to finish third place in the standings, or because it's last-ditch-effort No. 4 for BYU to try and earn an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.

But because the Cougars have to let this league know once and for all that it's ready to be disliked.

Hopefully, without more reason to talk about retaliatory hand gestures.

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-- Jason Franchuk covers primarily BYU football and basketball for the Daily Herald. You can connect with him by email at or by following him on Twitter at

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