Getting to the NCAA Tournament is hard.
For BYU, winning a game in the tournament is even harder.
The futility continued on Saturday in Indianapolis for the Cougars, who haven’t won a tournament game since 2012. That was in the First Four: BYU now hasn’t won a first round contest since Jimmer-Mania in 2011.
The program’s first appearance since 2015 ended quickly, a hot-shooting UCLA team shredding the Cougar defense in a 73-62 first round loss.
Except for a brief time early in the second half when the Cougars pulled within four points, BYU trailed UCLA by double digits for a large portion of the game. The reason? The Cougars never found the range from the 3-point line (3 of 17, 18%) and couldn’t figure out a way to defend the Bruins jump shooters. Getting multiple stops against UCLA’s efficient half-court offense was too much to ask on this night.
“Clearly, we didn’t shoot the ball well from the three or the free throw line,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “Credit UCLA for putting pressure on us. They got us on our heels for a substantial part of the first half. That happens sometimes. We’ve been able to overcome those kinds of nights this season, but we just couldn’t overcome it tonight.
“There are going to be nights on occasion where we don’t shoot the ball well, but we have answers for that and can still wins games. We just didn’t get it done tonight.”
It was the first time in Pope’s two-year tenure in Provo that the Cougars have lost consecutive games and the first time since losing to top-ranked Gonzaga in Spokane in early January that BYU was unable to at least threaten to come back from a deficit.
“It’s a hard locker room right now,” Pope said in the post-game news conference. “I am really proud of my guys in the second half. They kept fighting and kept trying to chip away. That’s this locker room and that’s what we’ve done all year. But at crucial moments we just couldn’t come up with stops. Johnny (Juzang) was a handful and we just didn’t have answers for him. UCLA can be so meticulous and demonstrative with the pace of play and that made it hard for us to claw back in the game.”
Juzang had no trouble finding open shots against BYU’s porous defense, adding 27 points to the 23 he scored in the overtime win against Michigan State on Thursday. Juzang was 10 of 16 from the field and 3 of 7 from the 3-point line. Juzang, Jules Bernard (16) and Jamie Jaquez (13) scored 56 of the Bruins 73 points, mostly on jump shots over the BYU defense.
UCLA isn’t known for its 3-point shooting or its defense but was great at both on Saturday, making 9 of 16 from beyond the arc and holding BYU to just 62 points, well below its season average (78.7).
Alex Barcello was BYU’s only consistent offensive weapon, finishing with 20 points on 9 of 17 from the field. Brandon Averette added 15 points but the Cougars (20-7) were just 9 of 16 from the free throw line and had only five assists on 25 made baskets.
UCLA chewed up BYU’s defensive game plan with a sharp-shooting first half. The Cougars couldn’t defend Juzang, who was 8 of 11 from the field (3 of 4 from the 3-point line) and scored 19 first-half points on a variety of jumpers. The Bruins were 6 of 10 from beyond the arc, including a couple that got shooter’s bounces on the rim before going in.
UCLA took the lead early and BYU struggled offensively, missing its first six shots. The Cougars closed to within one, 16-15, on a pair of Spencer Johnson free throws with 8:02 to play. The Bruins made four 3-pointers in a 16-4 run and took a 34-21 lead late in the half. UCLA led 38-27 at the break.
BYU went on a 10-0 run, with five points from Barcello and four from Averette, to trim a 14-point deficit to four, 43-39, with 14:22 left in the game. UCLA immediately responded with an 11-4 spurt to lead 54-43 and the Cougars never got close enough to challenge the rest of the game.
“It’s tough to go out like that,” BYU center Matt Haarms said. “Credit to them (UCLA), they have a great team that outplayed us and deserved to win this game. There are a lot of feelings going through my mind. That was my college career. I’m grateful for my time at BYU and grateful for this season but this really sucks, going out in the first round.”
The Pac-12 went 5-0 in the first round of the tournament, not including Oregon advancing due to VCU being shut down due to positive COVID-19 tests.
UCLA (19-9) moves on to the second round to face No. 14 seed Abilene Christian, which upset No. 3 Texas 53-52 in the first round.