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Cougs not crazy about unbalanced WCC schedule, but at least they return home

2014-01-27T08:15:00Z 2014-01-29T18:46:43Z Cougs not crazy about unbalanced WCC schedule, but at least they return homeJason Franchuk - Daily Herald Daily Herald
January 27, 2014 8:15 am  • 

The road has been nothing new to BYU's basketball team.

It's just...it sure was getting old being away from Provo for games.

The Cougars have played eight of the last 11 from the Marriott Center dating back to a Dec. 14 loss at Utah, losing six of those tries.

But that's about to take a change for the familiar. They will be at home for the next two weeks, a span of four straight games in trying to salvage what this past weekend looked like a surefire way back into the NIT — the last place BYU wants to revisit.

"It just hurts we couldn't get one of them," BYU's Tyler Haws said after a distinctly better individual performance in Spokane, Wash., than last year. But a 15-point loss at Gonzaga on Saturday served as a final wrecking point of the end of a four-game road streak.

BYU won both games in the Bay Area (San Francisco, Santa Clara) two weekends ago, setting up a West Coast Conference two-game set in the Pacific Northwest that served as a potential springboard for a run at a league title, after finishing as an afterthought (third place) each of the past two seasons.

Instead, there was the triple-overtime disaster at Portland, and the extra 15 minutes of hoop seemed to serve as an unfortunate (but hardly unexpected) carryover to Gonzaga. BYU faded in the final 20 minutes — the dreaded "heavy legs" crippling the second half, as BYU coach Dave Rose pointed out.

BYU shot 50 percent in the second half, but GU was at 64 percent, hitting 18-of-28 shots on a lot of open looks produced by hard cuts around the floor. Simply more energy.

Haws begged to differ on the endurance factor that Rose saw.

"I don't think it was an energy thing. I think it's more of just being mentally locked in; really focused on what needs to happen," Haws said. "I thought we had the legs and energy to get it done. We just let it get away."

And they let it get open. Especially along the perimeter.

There was no better example of BYU's defensive issues than Kevin Pangos hitting all five second-half 3-point attempts, fueling the Bulldogs' 10-of-22 night.

Portland was 14-of-23 two nights prior, reestablishing the easy trend of talking about just how much lousy luck (there have been some tough ones made on the Cougars along the way, not to mention some streaky shooters getting hot) and lousy defense have gone into the Cougars' arc woes.

GU coach Mark Few credited Pangos for looking for his shot more in the second half, and also having better footwork to be able to fire away quicker.

But there was also the simple fact he found a lot more space. BYU's zone defense caved in, nullifying the perimeter edge it created with taller defenders like Kyle Collinsworth in his vicinity.

"We lost some shooters a few times. Pangos got going. You've got to give them credit for knocking down big shots," Haws said. "But we kind of let it get away from us in the second half."

"Away" is a thing of the past for the next two weeks, at least in terms of locales.

The Cougars (13-9, 5-4 WCC) will play Pacific on Thursday and Saint Mary's on Saturday night. The next week, Santa Clara and San Francisco visit after both losing on their home courts to BYU.

For what it's worth, Pacific is the second-worst WCC team at 3-pointers in the WCC (36 percent) while SMC is trailing only Gonzaga at 41 percent.

∫Speaking of the schedule: Rose finds it odd (he's not the only one) that the Cougars are officially halfway through the conference slate but still haven't played two of the teams.

That changes this week when Pacific (new this year to the WCC) and nemesis Saint Mary's visit.

Rose said he's talked to the head coaches of teams he's faced, "and all of them would vote for a more balanced schedule."

Rose quickly points out that coaches don't exactly have a final say in that. The schedule is in large part built on television desires to get teams like Gonzaga and BYU on the tube.

Even GU — easily the flagship program — doesn't like the schedule that much. Guard Gary Bell Jr. told the Daily Herald on Friday he felt like the Bulldogs have been getting the "short end of the stick."

The Bulldogs started conference play with four consecutive home games when students were still on winter break. Media and some GU observers said the McCarthey Athletic Center was the loudest it has been all season for BYU, with the students all geared up. Bell said a particular late, high-hustle defense rebound had the crowd cheering at a pitch that was eardrum-splitting.

That won't be heard much often.

GU will finish with six of its final nine WCC games away from the Kennel, including the last four.

∫Miscommunication: Late, Haws and Gonzaga forward Sam Dower got into a little exchange of words.

It was just a miscommunication, Haws said. Dower sticking up for a teammate.

Haws fouled Bell, knocking him to the ground. Haws went to help up Bell, and that's when it started.

"He thought I said something to Bell," Haws said, as Dower appeared to bump Haws out of the way so he could give a hand to his teammate.

Dower and Bell cleared it up before the free throw.

"He was cool after...no hard feelings," Haws said.

∫Finding some rhythm: Lost in the scoreboard numbers may be the contribution of freshman center Eric Mika. It was his most productive game in about a month as he's battled a badly bruised hip, among other ailments: 12 points (5-of-9 shooting) plus nine rebounds in 31 minutes, compared to just four rebounds in the same amount of floor time at Portland.

BYU purposefully slowed down the tempo — ran more set plays, and drained the shot clock — to try and manage energy levels two days after the triple-overtime game.

"It was good for Eric, good to see him really active," Rose said. "That's a good sign for us."

Mika said he appreciated a true road-court atmosphere at MAC, compared to most WCC locales that are 50-50 crowds considering the lack of local interest in the home team plus BYU's large fan base.

"It was weird coming out of the tunnel and getting booed, instead of louder cheers for us," Mika said, cracking a smile.

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

Read more from  Jason Franchuk here.

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