That’s all that is left in the West Coast Conference regular season and to no one’s surprise, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are sitting on top, NCAA invites already in the mail.
The other eight teams go into the conference tournament hopeful for a three-game run to glory and a good finish to the regular season can get them on their way.
It hasn’t always worked that way for BYU. In fact, over the years a strong finish to the regular season has been no guarantee of post-season success. The Cougars haven’t won a conference tournament title since the 2001 season (in the Mountain West Conference).
But one of the hallmarks of a Dave Rose team early in his career was a strong finish to the regular season. BYU finished 9-1 in its final 10 games four times and 8-2 twice in the last six seasons in the MWC. The NCAA Tournament committee took notice: The Cougars made the Big Dance five straight times.
Since joining the WCC in 2011-12, BYU has finished the regular season 8-2 four times and 6-4 twice. This season, the Cougars close at Portland and at home against No. 6 Gonzaga, so it’s a likely 6-4 finish as well.
Not coincidentally, BYU has made the NCAA just three times in six seasons in the WCC and not since 2015.
A rough road trip last week produced an overtime win against last-place Pepperdine and a disappointing loss at San Diego. The Cougars have a precarious one-game lead for the third seed in next week’s WCC Tournament.
“Losing is always hard,” BYU sophomore forward Yoeli Childs said. “Everyone on our team is competitive and wants to win. I think it (team morale) is about as high as it can be considering the games we’ve been having. I think everyone is still trusting in each other, everyone is believing in each other and everyone is trusting the process of the season. I think we’re in a good place right now.”
The Cougars have struggled down the stretch shooting the ball, especially from 3-point range. In the past five games, BYU is just 22 of 73 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.
“I can’t pinpoint one thing during this stretch where we’ve struggled from the 3-point line, but just looking at it from my perspective is we’re due to have some big shooting nights and there’s no better time than now,” Childs said.
BYU opened WCC play back on Dec. 28 at home against Portland and big games from Childs (26 points, 13 rebounds) and Elijah Bryant (22 points, 15 rebounds) produced a 69-45 victory.
The Pilots (4-12 WCC, 10-19 overall) have lost four straight but have some hard-luck losses, including San Francisco (65-63) and Pacific (60-58). Portland stayed within single digits of Saint Mary’s on Saturday before falling 73-61.
Rose said his team is focused and has put in the work to finish the season strong.
“This is one of the better practicing teams I’ve ever had, at any level,” he said. “For us, this game at Portland has always been a really fast-paced, well-played game. We had a triple-overtime game up there and it always seems to be competitive. I think they are playing their very best right now and hopefully we can get back to playing our very best here pretty quick.”
Gonzaga is in the driver’s seat for the WCC’s No. 1 seed going into the final week of the regular season. The Bulldogs (15-1) have won nine games in a row since losing to Saint Mary’s on Jan. 18, including a convincing revenge victory against the Gaels (14-2).
BYU (10-6) holds a one-game edge for the third spot on Pacific (9-7) and three teams — San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara — all sit at 8-8.
The Cougars travel to Portland (4-12) and host Gonzaga to end the regular season. Pacific closes at home against red-hot San Francisco and on the road at Loyola Marymount (3-13).
There are dozens of scenarios, but the most likely is a 1-1 finish for both BYU and Pacific, which should be good enough for the Cougars to earn third place. That would match BYU up against the No. 6 seed in the WCC Tournament quarterfinals — probably Santa Clara or San Diego — and a likely meeting with Saint Mary’s in the semifinals should BYU advance.
The tiebreaker procedure in the WCC is 1) head to head, 2) record vs. higher seed and 3) RPI.
The WCC Tournament begins on Thursday, March 1, at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.