PROVO — BYU’s 79-56 home victory over Portland last Thursday was much-needed for a program that has faced adversity and distractions this week.
“Glad we got this win,” coach Dave Rose said after the game. “It’s a big one for us.”
With a 10-8 record overall and 2-1 mark in the West Coast Conference, the Cougars host Santa Clara Saturday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv).
A week ago, Saint Mary’s thumped BYU, 88-66. Then the Cougars dealt with issues involving guard Jahshire Hardnett, who missed practices. He was set to leave the program, according to an internet report. Hardnett is back with the team and was on the bench Thursday — though he didn’t play due to a hand injury.
Yes, it’s been an eventful week for the Cougars.
“There was no mention of Santa Clara the last three or four days,” Rose said after Thursday’s victory.
BYU is seeking back-to-back wins for the first time since winning three in a row — over Utah State, Utah and Portland State — in December.
The Cougars are 7-0 in Provo and 15-1 overall against Santa Clara under Rose.
But the Broncos (10-7, 2-1) are much-improved this season. Santa Clara has won seven of its last eight games, including last Thursday’s 67-64 win over Pepperdine, with its only loss during that stretch coming at No. 5 Gonzaga last week.
The Broncos are led by guard Tahj Eaddy, who averages 17 points per game, and forward Josip Vrankic, who averages 13.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. Trey Wertz averages 11.4 points and Josh Martin is averaging 9.4 rebounds.
“They’re big and strong,” Rose said of Santa Clara. “Their guards are playing really well.”
BYU endured two three-game losing streaks this season plus personnel issues. How has this team handled the adversity?
“Every team’s going through stuff. We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity this year. Guys individually are dealing with a lot of hard things in their personal lives. But that’s something that’s not super uncommon, where guys are struggling,” said forward Yoeli Childs, who scored 28 points and collected 12 rebounds against Portland. “You’ve just got to pick your guys up. That’s what it’s all about. We’re a brotherhood and when guys are down, every other guy on the team has to go pick him up. I think most teams in the country know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s bigger than basketball. A lot of people want to blame everything on basketball. A lot of stuff is bigger than basketball. That’s why I’m so happy that we’re a brotherhood and we’re a bunch of guys that have each other’s back.”
Being back home last Thursday for the first time in nearly a month, and taking a 19-point lead in the first half, allowed Rose to give playing time to younger players like Gavin Baxter, Rylan Bergersen and Kolby Lee.
“The practices we’ve had the last two weeks, there have been some guys who have really made some jumps forward. Gavin Baxter is one of them. He just needs an opportunity and he needs time and he needs to get out there,” Rose said. “I felt like playing at home, young players usually have a lot more success at home. I wanted to get him out there early. Defensively, he’s starting to grasp the system and being able to play more freely without thinking so much. It’s becoming more natural to him. Then Rylan’s had good practices and we wanted to get him out there.”
Bergersen nailed a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the first half to give the Cougars a 36-30 halftime edge after BYU watched its 19-point lead dwindle down to three points with one minute left in the half. Bergersen finished with seven points.
Guard Nick Emery, who’s been eligible for about a month after missing the first nine games of the season due to a suspension, scored six points and had two steals against Portland.
“What I like about Nick is how aggressive he’s playing. He gives us a great lift, especially on the defensive end. Offensively, he’s still trying to find a way that he fits with this group with the energy that he’s playing with,” Rose said. “He’s trying to make the open play. But at times, it looks to me like he’s trying to make the hardest open play instead of the easiest open play. We’ll keep moving forward. But I love the energy and the passion that he brings.”
Santa Clara (10-7, 2-1) at BYU (10-8, 2-1)
- Saturday, 7 p.m., MST
- Marriott Center
- TV: BYUtv
- Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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