BYU kept their NCAA at-large bids alive — albeit still on life-support — by eeking out a tight, 78-74 victory over San Francisco.
It was a complete reversal from the first meeting between the teams this season, where the Cougars shellacked the Dons by more than 30 points in their own gym behind a barrage of 3-point bombs. But the visitors were not about to let history repeat itself in Provo. San Francisco played with energy and feistiness on both ends of the floor, making it difficult for BYU as they struggled through a difficult shooting night, connecting on only 15 percent of their long-range looks.
The Cougars leaned heavily on Tyler Haws, who poured in 28 points on 20 shots — falling just a few points short of surpassing Danny Ainge for second on BYU's all-time scoring list. The All-American candidate made a renewed effort to attack the basket and repeatedly finished strong off the bounce, giving BYU a host of easy points when not many were coming from other sources.
But the Dons fought and clawed to the very end, where the Cougars overcame a few late mishaps (defensive brain farts, foolish fouls and missed free throws among them) to pull out the close win. Mark Tollefson paced San Francisco with a strong 22-point, 7-rebound performance that ultimately wasn't quite enough to put his team over the top.
Besides Haws, BYU had only one other scorer in double-figures — Anson Winder, with 11. Kyle Collinsworth and Skyler Halford each added 8.
• BYU's closeouts are truly horrendous. They can't stay in front of anybody on the perimeter, which causes the help defender to over-rotate and, in turn, leaves guys wide open for easy shots. Tough to overcome those kind of frequent defensive lapses.
• We've talked a lot about the offensive rebounds BYU gives up, but they do seem to attack the glass pretty well in their own right. The problem is, they can't seem to squeeze the ball once they get it. On multiple occasions, Collinsworth and Kaufusi skied above the Dons to grab an offensive board, only to get immediately stripped on the way down. Maybe Bob Medina needs to start putting extra emphasis on hand workouts?
• Tyler Haws really is a wizard. He didn't shoot the ball great on jumpers tonight, but made up for it by getting to the rim repeatedly. And a few of the jumpers that he did make were just flat-out ridiculous. Like, "I have no clue how he just did that"-style ridiculousness. What a special player. Enjoy him while you still can, folks.
• That being said: only four more home games for Haws (barring an NIT appearance, but let's not think about that). Weird. Sad. Weird and sad.
• What more can you say about Dalton Nixon? In a tough few weeks for the Cougars, he's been one of the few bright spots. The freshman has proven his ability to be a threat offensively (no small feat for a BYU big), solid defensively and strong on the boards. He's got a ways to go, but he just flat out hustles all the time, and he gets good results fairly often because of it.
• In that spirit, I propose we start Dalton Nixon and Ryan Andrus and play them both the entire 40 minutes. Just non-stop hustle and, yes, GRIT. I’m at least partially serious about this proposal.
• I don't know if it's the injury to his non-shooting hand, but Chase Fischer's shot doesn't look quite right. He's now 1-for-11 from deep in his last two games, and something looks deeply off in the mechanics. If it's injury-related, there's not much you can do about that but try and fight through. But man, BYU needs Chase feeling confident about his stroke right now. Bad timing.
• I hate to say this, but... San Francisco is terrible. I mean, they're really not a good basketball team. BYU probably should have beat them by at least 20, based on the talent on both teams.
• Corbin Kaufusi has made some really good strides this year. He has a ton of raw talent, and I think he will eventually be a really good player. He has the tools. But holy cow, he does not understand how to defend the ball yet. He hasn't quite figured out how to position his body or what angles he needs to take to cut off penetration. (Plus, he managed to foul out in just 22 minutes tonight.) This isn't necessarily simple stuff — it will come as he gains more experience — but it could burn BYU against teams with skilled low-post threats.
• Not great game management for BYU at the end of the first half. Tyler Haws should have held the ball for the last shot, but Instead opted for a tough, contested reverse layup. He missed, giving the Dons another possession, which they converted into an additional two points. Just like that, a potential 8- or 9-point halftime lead became four.
• Several people complained on Twitter throughout the first half that the opening frame (in which the teams scored only 31 points and 24 points, respectively) was "ugly' and, thus, not worth watching. I hated to break it to them, but that's a pretty average scoring half of basketball at the vast majority of colleges across the country. We're just acclimated to BYU's fast-paced, gun-slinging style now.
• Is Kyle Collinsworth ever going to make another layup again? Obviously that's hyperbole, as BYU's jack-of-all-trades definitely converted a couple close shots against the Dons. But it does feel like he's also failed to convert quite a few easy looks since the second half of the San Diego game. (He went only 4-for-11 from the field tonight.) It almost feels like he's not going up focused — perhaps expecting to be fouled? — and it's affecting his normally stellar finishing. Weird occurrence.
• One sobering thing to watch: Collinsworth fell hard to the floor late in the game after trying to grab a rebound and came up hobbling. It looked like he was pointing to his back initially, but Rose said after the game that he'd fallen on his hip and that it was still sore. It will be important to see how that potential injury develops over the next 24 hours as the team gets ready to face Santa Clara on Saturday. Obviously, any time spent without Kyle in the lineup would be a very bad thing.
• You’d think opposing teams would watch film on Haws and figure out that behind-the-back ball fake he pulls all the time. But no one does, apparently. He fools at least one person a game on it, and it is glorious. Never change, opposing teams. Never change.
• Dave Rose went super small mid-way through the second half, playing Jake Toolson (nominally) at the power forward spot, alongside Collinsworth, Haws, Halford and Kaufusi. This kind of lineup only works because of Collinsworth's unique gifts. Yes, he can run his usual point guard position on offense, allowing Toolson to draw the opposing forward away from the basket — but the key part is on defense. Because Kyle can use his size and athleticism to credibly defend and rebound the 4-spot on that end, it allows BYU to shift the smaller Toolson onto a guard and avoid being murdered on the boards. It's a great wrinkle that Rose can throw out there from time to time, made entirely possible by one very versatile player.
• People hate on Luke Worthington all the time, and I won't deny that he has some undoubtedly frustrating elements to his game. (Namely, his complete lack of offense and mediocre rebounding stats.) But after not playing much in the first half, he relieved Kaufusi in the second half, played quite a few minutes and was really effective on defense. He backstopped the last line of BYU's 2-3 zone and really made things difficult for the Dons' Kruize Pinkins around the basket. His defense even led to offense (for others) a couple times. Of course, none of this is new from Luke — he's a very good defender. And that's why I've always felt he deserves the time he gets on the floor.
• Isaac Neilson hasn't been getting many minutes lately, but foul trouble forced Rose to play him deep in the second half of this one. His first three possessions? Big defensive rebound, pretty finish off a pick-and-roll, drawing a charge in transition. He then grabbed a key offensive rebound and drew a foul (making both free throws) a minute later. Not bad, kid. He definitely provided a spark at a time when BYU's lead was in serious jeopardy.
• One piece of tough love for Isaac: Lots of BYU fans were upset by the charge call on him with 7 seconds left in the game and the Cougars up four points. And it very well may have been a bad call — but I don't care about any of that. The truth is, Neilson should have never been within a country mile of any San Francisco player in that situation. If you're up four with 7 seconds left, you just have to get out of the way. Let them shoot a layup. The likelihood of the opposition making up four points in that span of time is so remote as to be nearly impossible. You only aid them by trying to take charges and stopping the clock.
• Despite all the ugliness and heartburn, BYU did pull out the win — and that is certainly the most important thing. There were a few minutes near the end of the game where the margin was razor thin and BYU's momentum seemed to have stalled. Things were looking bleak — and felt very much like the San Diego game all over again. But credit is due to Dave Rose and his team. They found a way to win, even if it was ugly. And that's really what matters most right now. Just keep winning and keep the dream alive.