BYU had the same starting lineup for 13 games, but Cougar coach Dave Rose was looking for a little more spacing and offense.
Inserting sophomore forward Zac Seljaas into the starting lineup in place of junior post Luke Worthington against Pepperdine on Thursday seemed to do the trick. The Cougars turned in a big second half and rolled to an 84-64 victory at the Marriott Center.
“I think that (Worthington starting) is our best defensive team,” Rose said. “But we had played four league games and hadn’t scored 70 points. This spaced the floor more. That’s a great line for Zac and hopefully he can get some confidence and build on that.”
Seljaas, who had averaged just 13 minutes in the first four games of league play, played 28 minutes against Pepperdine and contributed eight points (on 3 of 3 from the field), four assists, three rebounds, one steal and one block. Seljaas also knocked down his first 3-point shot in five games.
“I trust the coaches whatever they want to do out there,” BYU sophomore Yoeli Childs said. “Zac stepped up tonight. He made some great passes inside and finished the ball well. It was great playing with him out there. We definitely missed Luke’s presence on the defensive end. He’s a loud player and always in the right spots. So there are definitely pros and cons to it. Both are great players. Me and the rest of the guys are comfortable with either one of them out there.”
Childs (21 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals) and Elijah Bryant (25 points, 5 of 8 from the 3-point line) are both averaging better than 20 points per game during league play.
“He (Childs) continues to improve in every aspect and every part of his game,” Rose said. “He’s improved at the foul line, as a rebounder, as a scorer and as a facilitator. He understands the game more and his ability to pass the ball has improved. He really makes it difficult to guard when post guys can pass that way.”
Childs was asked how to describe Bryant’s abilities.
“How much time to do we have?” he said with a smile. “Eli is a special player. He’s quick, so you can’t put a big guy on him or you’re done. He’s so strong he can bully the guard at the post. He can score at all three levels. He’s phenomenal at scoring at the rim. He can give you a one-dribble pull-up. His catch-and-shoot 3’s are unbelievable. You have to pick your poison with Eli. He’s just a match-up nightmare. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever played with.”
Santa Clara was just 3-9 during the preseason but won three of its first four games in league play. On Thursday, the Broncos allowed Saint Mary’s to shoot 55 percent from the field and 50 percent (9 of 18) from the 3-point line in an 81-57 loss. Junior guard Kevin Feagin is one of the WCC’s top scorers (17.8 points per game) and Santa Clara also starts Princeton graduate transfer Henry Caruso (12.6 points, 6.9 rebounds per game).
The last time BYU played at the Leavey Center was just one week short of a year ago. The Broncos made 14 3-pointers and pulled off a 76-68 upset. The Cougars’ last road game produced a disappointing 67-66 loss at Pacific. The Tigers seemed to have found their stride and upset San Diego on Thursday 74-70.
Even so, BYU can’t afford another loss at Santa Clara if it wants to remain in contention for the WCC title.
“I really want us to start off strong in those games,” BYU sophomore guard T.J. Haws said. “In league play, if you give any team any confidence, any team can play with any team in this league, so I’m hoping that right from the get-go we’re ready to go and locked in on the defensive end and aggressive on the offensive end.
“I’m excited. I really think we can beat anyone. I feel like if we’re doing what we do on both ends of the floor and play the way we’re supposed to play and the way we’ve practiced since the summer, I really believe we can beat anyone — not just in this conference — but any team.”