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San Diego • While building their NCAA Tournament résumé in this season of inconsistency, the BYU Cougars had somehow managed to avoid the so-called "bad loss" that will most likely send them to the National Invitational Tournament.
The hot-shooting San Diego Toreros sprung a mild upset on the sloppy Cougars on Thursday night at Jenny Craig Pavilion, taking a 74-68 victory to pretty much ensure BYU will need to win the West Coast Conference Tournament in March to make it back to the Big Dance for the eighth consecutive season.
The Toreros cracked BYU's usually reliable zone defense with just enough timely 3-pointers and took advantage of a 41-34 rebounding edge to beat the Cougars for the first time.
"It wasn't our best game," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "... We just couldn't make the big play."
The Cougars couldn't make the big free throw, either. BYU was just 11 for 22 from the free-throw line, which Rose said was "obviously a factor in the game."
BYU (18-7, 8-3) is still in third place in the West Coast Conference, but the loss to a mid-level WCC team pretty much means it is out of the title hunt. San Diego improved to 6-4 and 13-12 and got the upset it wanted after nearly toppling No. 6 Gonzaga here six days ago.
The hero for the Toreros was guard Johnny Dee, who was questionable before the game with a sprained ankle, but hit the dagger with 3:50 remaining a long 3-pointer he stepped into to beat the shot clock and give his team a five-point lead.
"We made some runs [in the second half], but they hit some big shots," said BYU's Tyler Haws. "I dunno, it just stinks."
Haws was solid in the second half, fueling a 9-0 run that helped the Cougars almost erase an 11-point deficit. He finished 10 for 17 for 27 points, but missed two free throws.
Brandon Davies battled foul trouble in the first half, but finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Still, his 4-for-10 effort from the free-throw line was costly. Also costly were 15 turnovers, including several in the backcourt in the first half that led to easy USD baskets and enabled the Toreros to take a 40-36 halftime lead.
"We made some knucklehead plays in the first half," Haws said.
For all their woes, the Cougars made a game of it down the stretch as a 1-3-1 zone baffled the Toreros at times and Davies and Haws took turns leading big runs. Haws' three-point play cut the deficit to 64-62, but Dee's dagger righted the home team.
And after Haws hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left and Dee made one of two free throws, BYU trailed by just four. However, Haws and Matt Carlino (nine points, four assists, five turnovers) got tangled up, the ball went out of bounds, and that was that.
"Kind of a miscommunication ... but we didn't lose the game on that possession," Haws said. "It was [because of] a lot of plays before that."
The Cougars started the game as if they were going to have another easy time with the Toreros after winning 74-57 a few weeks ago in Provo and downing USD three times last year. They jumped to an 18-10 lead after eight minutes when Carlino made a steal and threw a nifty pass to Haws for a fast-break dunk. But the Toreros put together a 10-2 run in the next four minutes, capitalizing on several Cougar turnovers, and it went back and forth from there until San Diego pulled away at the end of the half.
"In a lot of situations, we were just slow to the ball," Rose said. "We had a hard time getting into a rhythm offensively."
Up next for BYU is a game Saturday at the Marriott Center against San Francisco.
Storylines San Diego 74, BYU 68
R IN SHORT • Poor free-throw shooting and 15 turnovers doom the Cougars on the road.
KEY STAT • San Diego outrebounds BYU 41-34.