This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Los Angeles • Yes, those really were the BYU Cougars out there in those alternate black road basketball uniforms under the bright lights of the Staples Center on Saturday night, even if coach Dave Rose and several players tried to deny it after another bitter defeat.
Playing timidly and failing to adequately attack a prickly zone defense the undefeated USC Trojans threw at them in the HoopHall LA Classic, the Cougars suffered a 91-84 loss in front of 7,952 to drop to 5-3 on the season.
"We didn't play with that same aggressive, attacking mode that makes us good," said Rose, whose team has now lost three of its last four games. "Tonight there were very few minutes in the game that we looked like ourselves. USC did a good job of making us play on our heels instead of on attack."
The Cougars did get around to attacking better in the second half, but by then it was too late. Trailing by as many as 16 points in the second half, and by 13 with just under eight minutes remaining, the Cougars mounted a late rally and got within five when Eric Mika made a couple of free throws with 1:42 remaining.
Mika totaled a career-high 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but foul trouble again limited his playing time, and the Cougars foundered at both ends when the 6-foot-10 sophomore was on the bench. He played just 28 minutes.
"It is something I have to work on," Mika said of the fouls, although some were ticky-tack calls with no bearing on the play. "I know when I am in there I can help keep them off the boards and give us an inside presence on offense, so I want to be in there, and I know the team wants me to be in there, so I just gotta play smarter and stay in there."
Easier said than done.
After Mika's ninth successful free throw, in 11 attempts, cut it to 80-75, the Trojans (8-0) answered with a big 3-pointer by De'Anthony Melton, their ninth trey of the night on 21 attempts from beyond the arc, and held off the late charge.
"We have been defending well all season, that's why we are 8-0," USC coach Andy Enfield said.
The Cougars certainly helped in that regard, misfiring horribly in the first half after taking a quick 12-2 lead when USC was missing 15 straight shots after making its first. BYU guards Nick Emery and TJ Haws both went 0-for-6 in the first 20 minutes, and the Cougars were a frosty 1 of 11 from 3-point range, enabling USC to roar back from its early shooting woes and take a 39-32 halftime lead.
Sophomore Shaqquan Aaron was 4-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half alone and finished with a career-high 19 points. Junior Jordan McLaughlin, a 10-point scorer, also hit a career high, going off for 24 as the Trojans played their first game without injured leading scorer Bennie Boatwright.
Rattled by USC's zone, the Cougars committed 11 of their 16 turnovers in the first half, and the Trojans had seven steals before the halftime horn sounded.
"We weren't ourselves," said BYU point guard LJ Rose, who committed five of those turnovers and watched from the bench for most of the second half as Dave Rose tried a variety of player combinations to get the Cougars out of their offensive funk. "We kind of just threw the ball away, myself included."
Dave Rose said USC turned to a smaller lineup without Boatwright in the middle, and the Cougars lost their aggressiveness.
"That is the first time in a long time a zone really stopped us the way that it did," Dave Rose said. "We've got guys who can jump into that high post and we can get the ball to them and they can make a play. Tonight we were just timid, just looking for different ways to attack it."
The Cougars made a game of it only because Emery and Haws got going in the second half. Scoreless in the first half, they combined to score 31 points in the second half.
Both teams made 30 field goals, but BYU assisted on just nine of its makes, USC 15. The difference was long-range shooting; USC was 9 of 21 from 3-point range, BYU just 5 of 23, but only after making some meaningless treys in the final seconds.
"We had a chance when they were still struggling to find themselves early," Dave Rose said. "Instead of being up three or four baskets, we could have been up a lot more if we would have just taken advantage of that, and maybe made them spend a little more energy coming back."
R The Trojans go on a 21-7 run after taking a 28-27 lead and cruise to their eighth-straight win
• Eric Mika scores a career-high 29 points for BYU, playing just 28 minutes due to foul trouble.
• TJ Haws and Nick Emery go scoreless in the first half, then combine for 31 points in the second half.