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Fifty-Three Free Throws aid BYU in win over Portland

With about half of the 4,100 fans in the Chiles Center cheering for them, the BYU Cougars outlasted Portland in another foul-fest and downed the Pilots 79-60 on Saturday night in the City of Roses.

Fifty-three was the number of the night, being both the number of total fouls whistled in the contest and the number of foul shots BYU attempted.

Yes, that's right folks. In true West Coast Conference form, referees whistled a player for a foul once every 45 seconds, much to the dismay of all in attendance or cursed with opportunity to be viewing the "game" on television. And yes, the Cougars did indeed shoot 53 free throws, shooting 38-53 (.717) from the line led by Noah Hartsock, who went 12-12 from the stripe all in the second half.

Portland likely lost any chance to stay in the game with its charity stripe performance. Despite outshooting BYU by a 45-to-35 percent advantage, the Pilots were a terrible 10-23 from the line.

Brandon Davies -- despite being the worst-performing free-throw shooter for BYU (4-10) -- led all scorers with 18 points while also grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. Matt Carlino added 13 points, while Noah Hartsock, Craig Cusick, and Brock Zylstra all added 12 points each. The only Pilot in double figures was guard Kevin Bailey, who scored 15 points.

If it's not clear yet, I had a hard time with the performance of the officials on Saturday. I watched this game after having taken in a Big Sky matchup between Northern Colorado and Weber State. The Big Sky officials, a league that is supposed to have a smaller profile than the WCC, were much better in consistency and proper control of the game than were BYU's refs in Portland.

The overbearing, inconsistent officiating got downright absurd/comical late in the game. When Portland's Bailey fouled out, he jaunted in a straight line towards Matt Carlino to talk some trash. Brandon Davies stepped in to keep Bailey from reaching Carlino, and a technical foul was called ... on Davies. In the credit where it's due department, BYUtv did a marvelous job of documenting what proceeded. Clear as day, Dave Rose was seen to say to the official in quite a upset manner, "He went straight at my player, and my guy gets the T? He went at my player!"

When it was all said and done, Portland's starters had 3, 4, 4, 4, and 5 fouls, with backup forward Dorian Cason also fouling out in just 15 minutes of action -- and BYU had attempted 53 free throws.

The presence of fouls isn't always an indicator by itself of poor officiating. Some games truly are more physical than others. Once as an official of a junior high-aged game, a coach derided me and my reffing partner for having called 6 fouls on his team but only 1 on the other team. I said to him, "Coach, you're full-court pressing, and they are playing a 2-3 zone. What do you expect?"

But the bane of the officiating I've seen in the WCC is not all impacted by style of play. The officials seem completely oblivious to which fouls directly impact the game and which fouls don't. Every game could have a foul whistled on every possession by each team the entire night. It's which fouls directly impact ball handlers and shooters (and then rebounders once the shot goes up) that are important.

On some possessions, the refs seem ready to whistle the first contact they see, like a traffic cop on the prowl to close out his monthly quota. One specific example happened a few times against Portland and Gonzaga both -- A player would go to the post, turn his back to post up, and as soon as the defender made contact in any way, the baseline ref would blow his whistle.

Why am I going on this semi-rant now? Because I felt it more appropriate to do so in a lower-profile game in which BYU won. It means more than a butt-hurt fan complaining after a loss. But more importantly, it makes the game absolutely unwatchable. I haven't watched a more unsatisfying, boring win than I did Saturday night.

Maybe that was influenced by seeing BYU continue to clang threes off the rim as if we had been hexed with a team full of poor-man's Jonathan Tavernaris (if that is possible). Because damn. Really. At one point in the second half, Zylstra raised up for what appeared to be an open, in-rhythm three-point attempt from the wing, and the ball sailed over the hoop and hammered off the bottom of the backboard on the opposite side. The running tally starting with the game at Pepperdine is now 17-101 for a blistering 14.4% from deep -- an approximate average of 3-17 per game. I think it might be time to call upon JoBu.

So while I may have been soured by that display, and while Portland really didn't know how to handle Davies and Hartsock in the post which did lead to legitimate fouls, it all has become a bit too much for me. All I can say is let's get in the tourney so we can see some actual basketball again before we have to call it a season.

But, any conference road win is a good win, and the Cougars did enough to get the win. Hopefully a week off before playing Pepperdine at home will cure the shooting woes.