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Kragthorpe: BYU shrinks on WCC's semi-big stage in horrible loss to Saint Mary's

Published March 7, 2017 2:58 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Las Vegas

By scoring 20 points in the first 22 minutes of Monday night's game vs. Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals, the BYU Cougars answered a lot of questions about their 2016-17 basketball season.

Unfortunately for them, the answers were the same in every case: no, and resoundingly so.

No conference tournament title for a program that last brought home a trophy from one of these events in 2001.

No NCAA Tournament appearance in the first collegiate year of the LP3, the reunion of Lone Peak High School alumni Nick Emery, Eric Mika and TJ Haws in the BYU lineup.

No lumping of BYU with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's in a Big Three of the WCC, for this season.

That's the fallout of the Cougars' 81-50 loss to the Gaels at Orleans Arena. The biggest losing margin of coach Dave Rose's 12-year career could not completely undo the goodness of BYU's Feb. 25 win at then-unbeaten Gonzaga to conclude the regular season. How long ago does that seem, though? Even if they're responsible for the "1" in Gonzaga's 31-1 record, the Cougars are just an afterthought in this venue as the tournament's top two seeds play for the title Tuesday.

The irony of this performance was that BYU played adequate defense in the first half, yet trailed 36-20. That's because when Haws' heave fell short at the horn, the Cougars' shooting rate dropped to exactly 25 percent. Haws and his high school teammates were a combined 4 of 19 — even with Haws hitting consecutive 3-pointers in BYU's only sign of life in the first half.

The second half was much worse defensively for the Cougars, who trailed by 32 points after another 10 minutes of play. Emery finished 0 for 7 from the field in the first scoreless game of his two college seasons — and probably his life. Haws (13 points) and Mika (10) added some cosmetic touches late in the game, but they couldn't salvage a terrible night.

There's some merit in being known as the best of the rest, beyond the WCC's nationally ranked duo. But to truly distinguish themselves and qualify for the NCAA Tournament, BYU needed to do something extraordinary in Las Vegas — twice, actually.

It didn't happen, to an embarrassing degree against Saint Mary's. The Cougars (22-11) managed to beat Loyola Marymount in Saturday's quarterfinals, but that was all. So they will await another NIT bid, while living with the fact they were never really competitive in three meetings with Saint Mary's.

Even if the threshold of BYU's success or failure were the 25-point margin the Gaels compiled in the second half of last month's 70-57 victory in Provo, the Cougars regressed considerably Monday. Saint Mary's went ahead 60-28 midway through the second half.

Because I've said all along that Weber State would be the state's only team to make the 2017 NCAA field, I've been forgiving of the Cougars and for some of their stumbles this season. But this showing was inexcusable. BYU was overwhelmed by the Gaels (28-3) from the start, showing no ability to stick with them. And then it got worse.

So the Cougars will head home prior to the title game for the second year in a row and await their NIT assignment. They could draw Utah in the first round, in which case they can only hope that Monday remains the low point of their season, by far.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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