And so it ends — not with a bang, but with the faintest of whimpers (and absolutely no rebounds to speak of).
Pepperdine stuck the final dagger in BYU's slim hopes of an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament with a strong second half. The home team got 22 points from Stacy Davis and 18 points from Lamond Murray, Jr., both of whom shared the starring role as the lead villains in the Cougars' nightmare. Tyler Haws led the visitors with 22 points, and Anson Winder added 20.
But as impressive as Pepperdine was after the break, there's no getting around the feeling that the Cougars just flat-out gagged this one away. They posted a great first half to open the game, playing uncharacteristically tough defense. BYU forced the Waves into long, contested jump shots, and used active hands to create turnovers that led to easy fast break buckets. It was perhaps the most complete half of basketball the team has put together this season, and sent them to the locker room with a 13-point halftime lead.
All good, right? The Cougars had figured it all out and should just ride the same wave to victory in the second half? Not so. An entirely different BYU team came out for the second half. Gone was the tough defense. Gone was any semblance of a functional halfcourt offense. Gone was every single ounce of their confidence. And all of those subtractions added up to a really ugly half of basketball.
Pepperdine came to play, and they took advantage of BYU's sleepwalking. They pounded the Cougars inside, getting easy baskets and boatloads of free throws. Time and time again, the visitors failed to box out — giving up second and third chances that the Waves invariably turned into points. On the other end, BYU looked disjointed as ever, tossing up contested shots and resorting to some extraordinarily ugly one-on-one "hero ball" once it was clear that the game was slipping (had slipped?) away.
All in all, it was a monumentally depressing performance by the Cougars. In a game they absolutely had to have to keep any sliver of their at-large dreams alive, they brought everything you would have wanted to see — for a half. And then, nothing. The second half might as well have been a petri dish full of all the shortcomings, frustrations and inadequacies that this team has shown all season long. They were all in there, and Pepperdine used their biggest microscope to identify them and exploit them.
The season's not over. There are plenty of games left, and thanks to the magic of college basketball, the Cougars (and every other team) still do have a puncher's chance at a tournament bid. But it's all come down to the WCC conference tournament. That's the only realistic avenue at this point. Everything between now and then is just jockeying for position and sorting things out in hopes of somehow catching fire for three days in Las Vegas.
That's where we are — and it isn't a fun place to be right now.
• Chase Fischer suffered a concussion from getting hit in the head with a ball in warmups? 2015 feels just as bad for BYU sports as 2014 so far. Because Fischer's presence was sorely missed. The Cougars shot very few threes until the closing minutes (when they were just chucking up anything out of desperation), eliminating a key facet of their offense and making them incredibly one-dimensional. I don't know if they win this game with Chase in the lineup, but I'd certainly feel better about their chances.
• If I had a dollar for every time a BYU player jumped to pass and turned the ball over, I wouldn't be a millionaire — but I'd be pretty solidly ensconced in the upper middle class.
• Dave Rose is really mixing up his lineups these days. After settling in to a pretty regular rotation for most of the season, he's clearly been searching for answers over the last few games — and that means giving a second chance to pretty much everybody. (At one point in the first half, BYU had Bartley, Andrus and Toolson all on the floor at the same time. If you predicted that lineup before the season, you may be clairvoyant.) And considering how things went tonight in Malibu, I think he may be searching a bit longer.
• You can love Skyler Halford or hate Skyler Halford, but there's no denying that he is an incredibly creative passer. He had back-to-back possessions in the first half where he dropped a pair of beautiful dimes to Neilson and Haws for easy buckets. It may look easy, but I promise you it's not. (He also played a strong game overall, turning in 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting with 3 assists. One of the few bright spots.)
• Want a silver lining? Kyle Collinsworth looked healthy. He moved well and got to the rim quite a bit in the first half for several dunks. He got bogged down in isolation sets in the second half, trying to do to much to beat the defense by himself, but at least he didn't look hobbled.
• Dave Rose picked up a technical in the second half begging for a foul after the period started out with his team being assessed 9 of the first 10 fouls. Usually I don't mind a coach getting a technical when things start slipping — few things can unite a flailing team quite like their coach going to the mat for them — but this one didn't quite work out. Rose's technical seemed to only accelerate BYU's downfall and, much like Fischer's flagrant foul against San Diego, really feels like a key turning point for the worst in hindsight.
• Stacy Davis is a MAN. I mean, that guy just murdered the Cougars — again. Look at this line: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, 12-for-16 at the free throw line. They simply had no answer for him. And as good and underrated as Davis is, he absolutely would not even sniff the starting lineup at Gonzaga — and that should tell you everything you need to know about the enormous difficulty of the task facing BYU now.