Sometimes the game of basketball is simple.
Just put the ball in the hands of T.J. Haws.
BYU’s senior guard absolutely took over the game on Thursday in the Marriott Center when the Cougars needed some kind of answer to shake off a stubborn Santa Clara team.
Haws finished with 28 points, nine assists and only two turnovers — as well as 12 of 12 from the foul line — but it was his sensational work with five minutes to play and the game tied at 66 that set him apart from the rest.
Haws had his fingerprints on every score in a critical 15-3 run, putting in eight points and assisting on three other baskets, including Yoeli Childs backbreaking 3-pointer with 1:10 to play for an 81-69 Cougar lead that would hold up for BYU’s seven straight West Coast Conference victory — the first time that has happened in nine years in the league.
“Santa Clara made an all-out commitment to not doubling the post and not giving up threes,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “So your poison there is T.J. Haws downhill. I don’t know if anybody wants to see T.J. Haws downhill. He’s too good. He’s unbelievable. He’s really special.
“But it’s hard, really hard. You have to make a decision, and Coach (Herb) Sendek, he’s a master right? I’ve known him forever and he’s an extraordinary coach. That was the decision that he made to try to do it that way and T.J. said, ‘I’m not going to let you do it that way.' He was sensational.”
BYU led by as many as 12 points in the first half and had a 40-30 advantage at the break. Santa Clara made up for that quickly in the second half by getting the ball inside consistently to Josip Vrankic and losing Cougar defenders for open 3-point shots. The Broncos took a 49-47 lead on a 3-pointer by Tahj Eaddy with 13:21 to play. The game was tied eight times over the next seven minutes and Santa Clara tied it up at 66-all with 5:34 to play.
That’s when Haws took matters into his own hands.
“We were moving the ball really well to get open looks and making the extra pass,” Haws said. “We knocked down big shots. In tough, physical games like that you need to get in the one-and-one. We did a really good job getting to the line and it helped us a lot when our shots weren’t falling as much.”
Childs finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds for BYU (11-3 WCC, 22-7 overall) and Jake Toolson added 20 points and 10 boards.
BYU shot 32 free throws — a season high — and made 22. The previous high was shooting 22 against San Diego in January. Curiously, the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the country made just 3 of 13 from beyond the arc — all three by big men: Childs made two and Kolby Lee the other.
“They had a game plan where they wanted to get us off the 3-point line and force us to drive,” Toolson said. “They did a good job making it tough on us. As the game went on we started to take the best shot each possession. T.J. was driving and we were getting to the line. We were listening to what the game was telling us.”
Vrankic paced Santa Clara (5-8, 18-10) with 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Coming up on Saturday is a big matchup with second-ranked Gonzaga in what will be a sold-out Marriott Center. The ‘Zags beat BYU 92-69 in Spokane on Jan. 18 but Childs was sitting out with a finger injury and didn’t play.