...WOW. What a game. It sucks to lose, but if you're a fan of the game of basketball, you really can't ask for much more. I can count the number of three overtime games, that I've witnessed live, on my fingers. Probably one hand of fingers, actually. It's hard to do after you drop a tough one, but my initial feeling after tonight is that I feel privileged to have watched that game.
My second thought is that the WCC is pretty dang deep this year and it doesn't figure to be getting any easier in the near future. Gonzaga and Saint Mary's are always going to be there. Santa Clara, Pepperdine, and this Portland team are on the rise in a big way. And as BYU found out earlier, even teams like LMU can give you a lot of trouble if you catch them on the wrong night. It's no Big Ten or ACC, but the WCC has plenty of talent up and down the conference... It's just a shame that, in all likelihood, the NCAA Tournament committee won't be quite so forgiving of losses like tonight. BYU is in a brawl for the conference crown. Any thing short of that puts them squarely on the bubble.
Now, with a game this long, there are going to be plenty of positives and plenty of negatives. Unfortunately, the negatives ended up outweighing the positives by the slimmest of margins tonight, but the effort was admirable to be sure and nothing to be ashamed of. I'm not going to attempt to break down the game by each half and then the three extra periods. To be honest, the game kind of blended together in my memory. Instead, I think the game was about those many positives and negatives, so I think I'll try to come at it from that angle:
THE REALLY GOOD
Tyler Haws: The box score speaks for itself. 48 points doesn't happen by accident and Haws earned every single one. As the game wore on, Portland ratcheted up the defensive pressure on Ty and it didn't really seem to matter until the third overtime. You can't blame number 3 one bit for fading a little bit when he did, because very few people would even be able to stand after what Haws went through tonight. Tyler worked for pretty much every one of his shots; it would be foolish to even attempt to count the number of screens he had to use to get himself open, but it was a lot. Also, the layup off the steal at the end of regulation was nice, but the 3-ball to tie with time winding down in the first OT was epic. Ty was the player of the game for obvious reasons.
Matt Carlino: Let me give you Matty's line. 25 points, 9 assists, 7 steals (SEVEN!!!), 2 rebounds, 1 block, and 0 turnovers. Read that again. Not only is that ridiculous, it's everything you could ever possibly want from your point guard. It's a bummer for Matt that Tyler dropped 48, because this was a pantheon performance for him too, but I doubt many will remember it as such. Not only was Carlino a HUGE boost off the bench yet again for the Cougars, but for most of the game, he was the only BYU scoring option not named Tyler Haws. Make no mistake, Haws and Carlino put the team squarely on their backs. 7 steals is something special; don't forget that it was Matty that forced the turnover that turned into the Haws layup at the end of regulation. Brilliant game from him.
Nate Austin: That's right, Big Nate cracks the "Really Good" category. You know who played the most minutes tonight? It wasn't Haws, it was the big fella. 52 minutes. Nate's game isn't about the spectacular. As cliche as it sounds, the little things he does don't show up in the box score, but they make a big impact. On a night where it seemed like BYU got bullied inside quite a bit, especially by one Thomas van der Mars, Big Nate was really the only dude in blue that stood up and took the challenge to protect the inside. BYU trailed pretty big in the second half, but started their comeback when they switched to the 2-3 zone. You know who anchored the middle? Nate. When he wakes up tomorrow with what I'm sure will be countless bruises, he should hold his head up high because he played like a man tonight. And sank 5 of 6 free throws. That was nice too.
THE SNEAKY GOOD
Skyler Halford: Not a spectacular line for Sky, but the guy stepped up when it really mattered. He had two sneaky big moments for him that will likely be forgotten: First was dropping in a big 3-pointer toward the end of the first OT. That cut the lead to two, then the Cougs fouled van der Mars who made 1 of 2 before Haws' triple sent us to 2 OT. The second moment was coolly knocking down both freebies at the end of the second OT to stretch the BYU lead to 3. Some dude named Bobby Sharp tied the game after that, but it would have been the game winner if Halford doesn't hit both of those free throws.
THE MIXED BAG
Coach Rose: I don't want to blaspheme and act like I could have done a better coaching job than Coach Rose, because I couldn't. He got a magnificent effort out of his team tonight in a tough conference road game. He made some key adjustments down the stretch that gave BYU a chance. Coach Rose is one of the best in the conference, and possibly the best to ever lead the Cougars... but there were a couple of nits to pick. Firstly, why wait so long to bring Carlino back off the bench in the second half? It was abundantly clear that nobody else was doing anything on offense, but by the time Matty got back in, the Pilots were already up 11. If the substitution happens a bit earlier, maybe it jump starts the Cougar offense a little sooner and makes a bit of a difference. Second, on a night like tonight - where, again, it was very clear that it was Haws, Carlino, and not much else - why not give Frank Bartley IV some PT? It should be noted that I am a big fan of The Fourth, and I understand that he's been inconsistent, but at the very least he's shown the ability to get hot and be a difference maker at times. Why not put him in and see if he has it going?
The Officials: I'm not here to be a giant homer and complain that the refs were totally on Portland's side or anything. All things considered, it was a pretty well officiated game. They were pretty consistent at letting the players decide the game and I didn't think they got too whistle happy for any long stretch of time. However, from my (admittedly pro-BYU) view point, they did miss some pretty obvious ones. My favorite was when Skyler Halford's face viciously attacked Kavin Bailey's shoulder for what became an And-1 for the Pilots. A couple of illegal screens against BYU that were NOT called against Portland for very similar behavior swung some possessions. Oh and KC got hacked, ALL ARM as he went in for the would-be game-winner at the end of regulation. No call.
IFFY... AT BEST
Kyle Collinsworth: Showed some flashes in overtime of the KC we're used to seeing, but still a very sub-par performance by his standards. Rebounded decently well, but that's about all you can say. Kyle made poor decisions way too often, turning in an ugly 4 to 6 assist-turnover ratio. He looked timid driving the hole - which is where he creates offense - all game long. You could argue that he looked like a guy that knew he wasn't going to get any calls from the officials, but it's not like he converted his chances from the line anyway (finished 6-12). Collinsworth looked bothered by Portland's physical brand of defense in the halfcourt and his lack of production really put BYU behind the 8-ball for most of the contest.
Portland's Student Section: Props for showing up, and I guess I feel honored that you stormed the court after beating us... but the most creative chant I heard all night was "B-Y-U Sucks". And the more vocal ones didn't even bother to try to learn our players' names when they were trash talking. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't know their own players' names. Get your skills up Portland.
The Announcers: As much as I care about your Mount St. Helens story... I don't. And it's not that BYU "travels well" so much as that Cougar Nation is actually everywhere. Do your homework. (For those that feel the same way, I recommend using your DVR to sync up the game action with Greg Wrubell's call on the radio. It's magical.)
Erik Mika: Look, I know he's a true freshman. I know you have to take the good with the bad with a true freshman, and he's gonna have some bad games, and you have to be patient, and yadda yadda yadda. But young Erik had an atrocious game and there's no way to sugarcoat it. For starters, he got bullied. It's like Thomas van der Mars and the Portland big men took a look at the Ivan Drago lookalike and collectively decided "I must break you." It's one thing to get pushed around by someone who is stronger and more experienced than you, but I think the Pilots actually broke Mika. By halftime, he wasn't even really trying to post up anymore, he just kind of settled for setting screens for Tyler and Matt. He didn't compete on the glass, which is much worse than simply not getting in the stat column. Erik looked like a boy among men - terrified of touching the ball and unable to make any kind of impact. Believe it or not, that directly resulted in the Cougs' one-dimensional attack and made it all the more difficult to keep up. I know he can do better and he knows he can do better. Let's just hope he finds his big boy pants before the Gonzaga game on Saturday. I don't want to sound too mean, because I am a fan of Mika's overall game, but if we get many more performances like tonight, BYU is an NIT team. It's that simple.
BYU's 3-Point Defense: Sometimes contested shots go in. Sometimes an opponent - see Sharp, Bobby - has flames shooting out of his behind and refuses to ever miss. It happens. But there were just too many open looks for the Pilots early on, and that contributed to their unbelievable shooting from distance. How bad was it? Try 14-23 from deep. That's 60.9%! Teams can get hot, but it's usually only after they see the first couple go down off of wide open looks. The Cougs have themselves to blame as much as anyone else for the Pilots' monster night. Oh, and by the way, when you're up three in the second overtime, and the aforementioned opponent has the aforementioned flames emitting from his aforementioned behind... maybe double him? Try a little harder to deny him the ball... something! I know KC gave a valiant effort and it was pretty good D, but you have to make someone else shoot there. Have to.
It's funny how the negatives seem so much bigger after a loss, especially a battle like this one. Bobby Sharp may haunt your dreams tonight, but at the end of the day, we should be proud of our team. The positives shouldn't just get swept aside because it ended in a loss. An effort like tonight's can be a launching point if used correctly - fuel for the rest of the season. Our visit to Spokane likely won't be any easier than it was tonight, even before you factor in the fatigue. But this team has fought all year, and I expect another dog fight on Saturday. And again, as fans of the game, that's all we can ask.