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Provo • Just when it appeared the BYU Cougars were going to make a run at a West Coast Conference regular-season title and move back into consideration for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, Portland happened.
The Cougars (13-6, 4-2 WCC) lost 84-81 on Saturday afternoon at the sold-out Chiles Center to a team that had an RPI of 268 and had lost four-straight games, including Thursday at home by 11 points to cellar-dwelling San Diego. The Pilots (9-11, 3-4 WCC) have lost games this season to the likes of Idaho State and UC Davis.
A case could be made that it was one of the worst losses of the Dave Rose era, considering Portland's RPI and the fact that BYU was coming off a 69-68 upset of No. 25 Gonzaga, had won four straight games, and was pushing the Zags (6-1) and Saint Mary's (6-1) for the league lead.
Rose's postgame theme was that the Cougars do not handle prosperity well, and need to change that.
"We have to be more consistent," center Nate Austin told the IMG Sports Network. "Coach Rose tells us that when things are good, we have to be good. I think that's what we're struggling with right now. We go on a two- or three-game winning streak and we start to feel good about ourselves. We kind of lose that chip on our shoulder when things are going well.
"Tonight, early on, Portland punched us in the mouth. I think we were surprised with how physical they were and how well they were playing. But, coach is right," Austin continued. "We have to be good when we're good."
Instead, the Cougars are turning into big teases showing flashes of brilliance and defensive intensity, then letting up when they had an opportunity to make some noise in league play with Gonzaga looking as vulnerable this season as it has in BYU's five seasons in the WCC.
The Cougars did fight back from a 13-point first-half deficit, closing the gap to 42-40. They have trailed at halftime in all six of their losses this season. Two other times, they overcame halftime deficits to defeat Gonzaga and Belmont.
"I think we had a really good opportunity to come in and make something happen," Austin said. "After we lost today, the Gonzaga win is kind of nullified by our loss. … We were exactly where we wanted to be in the conference and we let the opportunity slip through our hands tonight. We still control our own destiny, which is good, but we have a harder battle from here, though."
Shoddy defense is generally fingered when the Cougars lose, but sometimes the opponent has to be credited for making a lot of difficult shots, BYU senior Chase Fischer said.
"We were playing hard," Fischer said. "It wasn't the effort. It wasn't like we came out and thought we were too good to play in this game or anything like that. [Gonzaga] was an emotional win. It could have drained us a little bit."
Portland was averaging 77.8 points per game and 42.8 percent shooting from the field, 37 percent from 3-point range. The Pilots scored 84 points and shot 45.2 from the field and 38.5 from beyond the arc (10 of 26).
"I think they just played really, really well," said BYU's Kyle Davis. "We just couldn't pull it out today. We needed a better effort defensively in disrupting what they wanted to do, and we didn't do that."
Davis said the Cougars are not "road weary," but are looking forward to playing seven of their final 10 WCC games at home. This week, however, they head back out on the road for games on Thursday at ninth-place Loyola Marymount (9-9, 2-5) and Saturday at fourth-place Pepperdine (11-7, 4-3).
BYU at Loyola Marymount
P Thursday, 9 p.m. MST