BYU's basketball team knows that you have to win on the road to compete for a WAC championship.
Somehow, though, they just can't translate that knowledge into results. They played hard Thursday night, but they couldn't stop Wyoming down the stretch as the Cowboys hung on for a 72-67 win. The loss drops BYU to 3-2 in WAC play (12-3 overall), but more importantly, 0-2 on the road."We just couldn't come up with a defensive stop, a key defensive rebound," said BYU center Gary Trost. "One time is all it would have taken."
BYU coach Roger Reid said that the game went just like he wanted it to, except for the final score. His team held Wyoming leading scorer Reginald Slater to nine points, got him fouled out with 1:51 left, beat the Cowboys on the boards, and shot 54 percent from the field.
"We had exactly the kind of game we wanted," he said. "But we couldn't get the defensive stand when we needed it."
Wyoming coach Benny Dees felt fortunate to come away with a victory in a game that saw the teams trade leads throughout. "All that happened is that we were able to be ahead at the end of the game," he said.
It didn't hurt that Wyoming also had a hot night, shooting 54 percent against a BYU team that had held opponents to 41 percent.
In its simplest terms, this game may have boiled down to this: The team that needed the win more, got it. A loss would have put Wyoming at 1-3 in league play and in desperate straits; the win leaves them 2-2 (10-6 overall) with Utah coming to town Saturday night.
"If we didn't win this one, we could have been playing Russian roulette catch-up the rest of the season," Dees said.
Both teams took their turns playing catch-up in this game. Wyoming raced to a 10-5 lead in the first five minutes, then allowed BYU to tie it one minute later. That's the way it went for the entire first period, as both coaches substituted freely and Reid threw just about every defense in the book at the Cowboys.
"We alternated our defenses to keep them off-balance as much as we could," Reid said. Wyoming, however, managed to keep its balance well enough to shoot 61 percent from the field in the first half. The biggest lead in the period by either team was five.
The Cougars threatened to put some distance between themselves and the Cowboys early in the second half, going up by five with Trost on his way to a breakaway basket and seven-point lead. But Wyoming guard Travis Butler came out of nowhere to block Trost's shot from behind, and Tim Breaux scored on the other end to make it a three-point game again.
BYU immediately went up by five again on a follow shot by Trost, but then Cougar forward Kevin Nixon was hit with a rare delay-of-game technical for tapping away the ball after it went through the basket. In most cases officials give players a warning, but this time the referee called the T, telling Nixon, "That was intentional."
"I've had 45 warnings given to other teams on that kind of thing this season, and no technicals," Reid said.
"How many times do you see that (kind of technical) in a college basketball game?" Nixon asked.
Not very often. Anyway, Wyoming's Maurice Alexander made both free throws and hit a three-pointer moments later to tie the game again.
Still, despite all that technical stuff, the game was knotted 63-all with 2:40 left. Slater made two free throws to put Wyoming up by two, but then fouled out trying to block a shot by BYU's Russell Larson.
"Anytime Reggie's off the court, you feel pretty good about the situation," Trost said, describing the Cougs' reaction.
That's when Dees made the move that may have won the game, calling a timeout to let the Cougar freshman think about those free throws. Larson, a 78-percent shooter, missed them both badly. On the other end, Breaux's miss bounced high off the iron and was tipped in by Brian Rewers over Trost, for a four-point Cowboy lead.
BYU had one last chance of any consequence, trailing by three with about 20 seconds left, when Mark Heslop put up an open three-pointer from the top of the key. But it hit the back of the rim and bounced over the backboard, giving the ball to Wyoming.
"I rushed myself a little bit," said Heslop, who admits he wasn't aware that the Cowboy defending him had stumbled. "I should have been aware that I had more time."
Trost was the leading scorer for the Cougars, totaling 18 on eight of 14 from the field. The only other Cougar in double figures was Nathan Call, who scored 12, made some impressive drives and seems recovered from his shooting slump.
For the Cowboys, Breaux led the way with 21, Alexander had 19 and Rewers, benefiting from all the attention paid to Slater, got 12.
The challenge for the Cougars now is to shake off an emotional loss and get ready to face Colorado State, a team that hasn't played since its upset victory over Utah last week.
"We have to put this game behind us and get ready for the next one," Reid said. "That's the first thing I said to the ballclub."
You can bet it won't be the last.