SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Santa Clara made another 3-pointer and called a last-ditch timeout to try and set up one last chance to really make BYU sweat out the end of Saturday night.
After the swish, then the referee's whistle stopping play, Cougar coach Dave Rose purposefully walked onto the Leavey Center floor and confronted a player he wasn't too thrilled with about defense.
"Where were you," Rose basically said (if you can trust a Daily Herald amateur lip-reader), wondering why the 3-point line hadn't been a little more effectively guarded.
Truth is, for Rose the late Broncos surge — cutting a 24-point deficit to 10 a couple of times late in the second half — may have been the best thing for the Cougars heading into more Provo practices to set up another road trip next weekend. Call it a teaching moment with bigger stakes ahead.
"This is our life. This is what we've got to do. We've got to be able to close out games that second night on the road," Rose said. "Hopefully we can figure out how to finish...maybe a little bit better."
BYU swept a Thursday-Saturday West Coast Conference series at San Francisco and Santa Clara, running the Cougars' winning streak to five games and proving they can indeed win away from the Marriott Center.
This next trip, however, is possibly the biggest two-game contrast the Cougars will see.
They've never been challenged at Portland in two WCC seasons, and that's where they'll play Thursday. Then comes a Saturday night game at first-place Gonzaga, where BYU has never been in contention in the closing minutes.
Oddly, Gonzaga recently lost at UP. And GU has already also won at Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount this weekend — a couple of paces the Cougars were defeated, hence the Bulldogs' advantage on the WCC ledger (6-1 compared to 5-2).
“We’ve just got to continue to get better and not forget that one road trip (to the Los Angeles area)," said Tyler Haws, who found his groove at Santa Clara after being hammered with two fouls in the opening minute. "We don’t want to feel like that again. Our team’s really coming together, and we feel like we’re playing well.”
Confronted with the question of possibly feeling some disappointment, Haws and game hero Anson Winder shrugged off a choppy finish. At one point, BYU had six made shots and eight turnovers in the second half.
“I know we were up by a lot and we kind of let them back in towards the end. But we’ll take the ‘W.’ We need it, with the spot we’re in in conference," Winder said.
BYU finished third in the West Coast Conference the previous two years, and never found itself deep in the season with a legitimate chance to win a conference title.
That may change, if last weekend is a fair barometer of BYU's come-around.
“We kind of held serve at home and won three home games,” Rose said after the Santa Clara victory. “But coming out here (to the Bay Area) and winning two on the road gives our guys some real confidence; new life. These games are all going to be really important with the way the league is playing out. … It puts us in position now that if we can win, we’ll be in good shape. That’s what we’ll try to do.”
∫Mika to consider: Point guard Matt Carlino, while praising freshman center Eric Mika, also pointed after Thursday's win at USF that the big fella could be "hard on himself" at times.
That showed itself Saturday, as Mika was called for traveling then he motioned over to the bench for coaches to take him out.
Mika, trying to get past a variety of leg ailments that forced him to miss nearly 2 1/2 games, finished with 10 points, six rebounds and two assists at Santa Clara. Mika scored in double figures for the 17th straight game and 17th time this season. The streak is the second longest by a freshman and the total is the ninth most for a freshman at BYU.
But the Cougars may need him to be even more effective on the Portland-Gonzaga road swing.
∫Traveling...decent: BYU's presence has provided a bump to opposing teams' attendance the past couple of games.
Santa Clara had an announced crowd of 2,560, including a fair number of BYU fans. The Broncos have been averaging a league-worst 1,580 at home.
San Francisco was the second-worst (among 10 WCC schools) in drawing a crowd. The Dons drew 2,137 on Thursday night, about 600 above average.
∫Tip-in: Haws passed Lee Cummard for 12th in career scoring and Mark Bigelow for 10th in career free throws made at BYU.