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Las Vegas • While BYU was stunning No. 1 Gonzaga a week ago in the Kennel, Loyola Marymount was traveling back to Los Angeles after their third straight win and relishing how the bracket for the West Coast Conference tournament was shaping up.
"BYU, they got a target on their back," Loyola Marymount forward Shamar Johnson said.
The Lions took their shot at the Cougars on Saturday afternoon, and almost connected.
But the depth-deprived Cougars beat back several Loyola Marymount rallies and held on to win 89-81 in the quarterfinal game in front of a pro-BYU crowd at Orleans Arena.
The third-seeded Cougars (22-10) move on to face the winner of the late Saint Mary's-Portland game in a Monday semifinal; Sixth-seeded Loyola Marymount finishes 15-15, with three of those losses by single digits to BYU.
"At no point in the game did we feel like we wouldn't win," said Loyola Marymount senior guard Brandon Brown, who led the Lions with 22 points.
Eric Mika led the Cougars with 25, while Nick Emery added 21 and Elijah Bryant 15. TJ Haws added 14 and Yoeli Childs 13 as all five BYU starters reached double figures.
It looked like the Cougars were going to cruise to the win when Emery hit three free-throws with under 13 minutes remaining to give BYU a 65-51 lead. Freshman Yoeli Childs scored with 11:30 left to make it 67-54.
But Emery left the game with his fourth foul moments after Childs' dunk, joining Mika on the bench, and athletic and senior-laden Loyola Marymount began its comeback.
Steven Haney's steal and bucket capped an 11-0 run for the eight-point underdogs, and it was anybody's game with six minutes left.
Reserve Davin Guinn, who scored the BYU bench's only point, forced two huge turnovers on back-to-back Loyola Marymount possessions, and Mika returned to take control. BYU's lead fluctuated between eight and four the last three minutes as Loyola Marymount refused to wilt.
"It was a hard-fought game," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "I think both teams came out feeling really comfortable, really confident. We both hits shots from the perimeter, and the score looked like it would be in the 100s for both of us."
Then it turned into a foul-fest, much like the previous two games in the regular season, as Loyola Marymount coach Mike Dunlap emptied his bench to keep fresh players on attack and Rose went deeper into his bench than he usually does because fouls afflicted Emery, Mika, Haws and Bryant.
"Tonight, [the BYU reserves] were pressed into service early, because we were in a tough, tough spot early in the first half with a lot of guys with fouls," Rose said.
Leading by five after Brandon Brown hit a driving layup with two minutes remaining, the Cougars iced it by going 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
"I think the proudest thing I am about our guys is [Loyola Marymount] just kept coming back at us we would get a little lead and they could come back at us and we were able to respond every time," Rose said. "That's a sign of a team that is playing really well together as a group and executing well."
The Cougars did some growing up Saturday, facing up to the Lions in a physical, hard-nosed game.
"We are playing with a lot of confidence right now," Emery said. "That's what is cool about our guys, is we are sticking together. We lost a few games there, and sometimes teams go one way or the other. We are learning from our mistakes and learning and getting better."
Loyola Marymount led by as many as five points in the first half, the Cougars by as many as seven. BYU went nearly six minutes without a field goal after taking a 16-10 lead with 16 minutes left on a Bryant field goal.
Childs scored BYU's last six points of the half to send the Cougars into intermission with a 42-38 lead and BYU's best stretch came early in the second half when it scored on seven straight possessions to get out to a 13-point lead.
R Despite getting just one point from their reserves, the Cougars advance in the WCC tournament.
• Eric Mika scores 25 points and Nick Emery adds 21 in the quarterfinal win.
• The Cougars improve to 22-10 in winning their fifth game out of the past six.