There were a lot of long faces in the BYU locker room after Wednesday’s excruciating overtime loss to rival Utah.
The Cougars led by 16 early in the second half, only to come apart when adversity struck in the form of injuries and a mounting foul count. If Yoeli Childs had been healthy for the entire game and if BYU had figured out a way to stop fouling virtually every time down the floor on the defensive end, it likely would have notched a win against another Pac-12 opponent.
The Cougars came apart both physically and emotionally against the Utes, and it’s up to the team’s seven seniors and the coaching staff to get things figured out before Saturday’s matchup at Vivint Smart Home Arena against UNLV.
“We’ve got to get way better, we know that,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “Our deal is we need get better every single day and that’s what we focus on. This game constantly asks you to respond. Every single day it asks you ‘How are you going to respond?’ So we have to find a way to respond to this in a really positive way.”
Asked after the game about what his team did well, Pope said, “I don’t know … I’m probably a little bit too emotional right now. I’m going to have to go back and watch the film to take away some positives from that.”
Here are a few.
Childs proved he could be even more of a force on the floor than ever in his first game back from his nine-game NCAA suspension, scoring 29 points in about 20 minutes before cramps took him out. He was 3 of 3 from the 3-point line and displayed his usual array of strong moves in the paint that Utah had no ability to stop.
Pope said after the game he wasn’t sure of Childs’ availability moving forward.
BYU continued its hot shooting from the 3-point line against Utah (12 for 24) and has shot 50 percent or better from beyond the arc in four of the past five games. The Cougars also outrebounded the Utes 33-28.
BYU struggled with turnovers (20), especially in the second half, and allowed 62 points in the paint against Utah, at one point surrendered eight straight layups. Those are numbers that will have to be addressed and improved.
Is there a sarcasm font?
Emotions ran high after the game. BYU’s Jake Toolson had some words with the Utah bench near the end of the overtime and Utah assistant Chris Jones — whose son Rylan, a freshman guard, scored 25 points — got in a post-game verbal exchange with Pope that was caught by photographers.
“I don’t really have much to say about that,” Pope said, “other than when we go through the (handshake) lines coaches should have enough restraint not to get into it with players.”
Pope was also asked about the officiating after the Cougars were hit with 29 fouls and the Utes shot 31 free throws, making 20 of 23 in the second half and overtime.
“I thought the officials were amazing,” Pope said. “That’s probably the best crew that ever set foot on the planet, and I’ll tell you this, a really brave and courageous crew. That crew, I would take them every single game. They are amazing.”
In his post-game radio interview, Pope said Utah coach Larry Kryskowiak carries “a big stick” when it comes to how the officials call his games. The statistics are telling: In the first nine games of the season (including one exhibition game), Ute opponents have been dinged for 20 fouls or more seven times.
Not his week
The BYU player affected most by the officiating against Utah was probably senior guard T.J. Haws, who was coming off a strong performance that earned him West Coast Conference Player of the Week honors. In four games last week, Haws averaged 16.5 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 55 percent from the field and 54 percent from the 3-point line.
Against Utah, Haws was just 2 of 7 from the field in 27 minutes with three assists and five turnovers before fouling out with three minutes left in regulation.
UNLV — under first year coach T.J. Otzelberger — is 4-6 this season with four of its games going to overtime. The Rebels are 1-3 in those extra session contests with losses to Cal, UCLA and Cincinnati and a win against Fresno State. Junior guard Amauri Hardy (17.9 points per game), Texas grad transfer Elijah Mitrou-Long (12.9) and Utah transfer Donnie Tillman (12.6) are quick, athletic players who will be a real challenge for BYU.
Last year’s meeting — which took place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas — was a particularly crushing loss for the Cougars. After trailing by 17 at halftime, BYU rallied to take the lead but lost 92-90 in overtime when Noah Robotham hit a step-back 3-pointer to beat the buzzer.
The Cougars have won 13 straight games on the home floor of the Utah Jazz.
“We’re just excited to play,” Pope said. “We’ve been out of our building a lot recently. This is a huge game. This Vegas team is getting better and they have some really talented players. It’s going to be a great challenge. It will be fun to get back to playing.”