WCC Tournament Quarterfinals: Slow start, late mistakes doom BYU in loss to San Diego

USA TODAY Sports

Despite stellar play from Brandon Davies, the Cougars were done in by another bad first half and more poor late-game execution in a 72-69 loss to the Toreros.

This is all because of the Dellavedagger. It changed everything. It brought us here.

BYU took an early exit from the West Coast Conference tournament on Friday by losing to sixth-seeded San Diego, 72-69 — fittingly completing a downward spiral that began the moment Matthew Dellavedova sank that fateful 47-foot buzzer-beater in January, sealing a big road win for Saint Mary's and sinking the first of many proverbial knives into the Cougars' backs. They haven't been the same since, finishing the season just 7-7 in their remaining games against some uninspiring competition.

So really it should have come as no surprise when BYU limped out of the gate against the Toreros, sleepwalked through the first half, then rallied nicely in the second before shooting themselves in the foot with a litany of dumb mistakes in the endgame. If we're being honest, we've seen this movie before. We know how it ends. This pattern has become increasingly prominent in recent weeks, and no sufficiently attentive Cougar fan should have been shocked to see it rear its ugly head again in Las Vegas.

We hoped for better, sure. But we knew in our hearts what we were likely going to get. Momentum (or the lack thereof) has a funny way of carrying over.

The loss wasn't due to a lack of effort from Brandon Davies, though. The senior big man left it all on the floor, turning in a truly impressive, well-rounded performance — 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. He was locked in, he was aggressive, and he was very nearly BYU's saving grace.

Unfortunately, as has been the case far too often this year, Davies didn't get sufficient help from his supporting cast, which was essentially limited to 20 points from an illness-stricken Tyler Haws and some late-game heroics by Matt Carlino. No other Cougar scored more than six points. That's not usually a recipe for victory.

But realistically, this game wasn't lost because the Cougars couldn't score. They scored 69 points. They outshot San Diego, percentage-wise. On most nights, that should be enough to win — but you also have to play the requisite amount of defense to make it happen. BYU forgot that second part of the equation.

If Dave Rose put his guys in a man-to-man defense, San Diego went right around them for easy shots at the rim. When he switched to zone, Torero shooters (particularly Ken Rancifer and Johnny Dee) found holes on the perimeter to spot up for open looks from three. No matter what defense BYU played, they showed a complete inability to control the glass, giving up several ill-timed offensive rebounds that resulted in crucial second chance points for the opposition.

None of these problems are new. BYU doesn't have the athletes to guard most teams man-to-man, which necessitates a lot of zone, which in turn requires the Cougars to gamble that their opponent won't make the resulting open jumpers. San Diego made enough of them tonight, particularly when it mattered most.

And yet, the failure goes even beyond that. Despite their defensive failings, BYU still had multiple chances to win this game. The score was tied with 2:31 left to play — but the Cougars simply failed to execute down the stretch.

They took bad shots, including a bizarre three-point attempt apiece from Davies and Nate Austin in the closing minutes. They fouled Dee repeatedly, putting him on the free throw line time and time again, despite the fact that he shoots better than 90 percent from there. And then the ultimate blunder when, with 41 seconds left and the Cougars down just three points, Haws secured a crucial steal — and then immediately proceeded to throw the ball directly to the Toreros.

Yep, it was one of those nights. The kind BYU fans have seen a lot lately.

At the same time, credit is absolutely due to the Toreros. As much as BYU didn't do what it needed to come out the victor, San Diego made those winning plays. Dee was sensational, racking up 25 points and hitting every big free throw down the stretch, while Rancifer and Chris Anderson provided stellar scoring in their supporting roles. The whole team played with energy and passion, and they made everything difficult for the Cougars for the full 40 minutes.

BYU hasn't had that kind of energy and passion on their side in a long time. Since January 16, to be exact. Since the Dellavedagger.

Where do the Cougars go from here? The NIT, probably. They will definitely be a low seed — they likely just squandered any chance they may have had at a home game. And who knows? If the cards don't fall right and things go really wrong, maybe they will end up in the CBI.

That's a fairly depressing potential outcome to think about considering the promise that this season held just a few months ago, but then again, we should probably all be used to it by now.

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