As the BYU Cougars suffered through their losing streak, they were consoled by one memory: they had beaten Wyoming. Colorado State? Nope. Utah? In their dreams. New Mexico? Nooooot! But Wyoming? That was do-able.
Don't look now, but the Cowboys have righted the mistake they made in Provo last month. Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium, Wyoming built its lead to 24 points and finished with a 77-54 win over the Cougars.Now all the Cougars have left to ask themselves is this: Who are they going to beat?
"To be honest with you, I just want to finish hard," said Cougar forward Ron Selleaze, who led BYU with 22 points. "If we win, great. If we lose, then we've got to just look at the positives."
Unfortunately for the Cougars, their list of positives isn't long. There are no weak-sister non-conference opponents left on the schedule. There is also nobody left on the schedule that they have beaten.
On Saturday BYU committed 21 turnovers - 15 in the first half. As usual, the Cougars shot terribly (34 percent) and were out-rebounded by eight. Wyoming's Jeron Roberts finished with 25 points.
"Jeron Roberts scored from every possible place that you can score from," said BYU coach Steve Cleveland. "They were emotionally ready to play us. Defensively, Wyoming did a great job of taking us out of what we wanted to do."
Which happened to be winning the game.
The Cougars' losing streak moved to nine games, as hopes of making the WAC Tournament continue to fade. They are 6-19 overall and 1-9 in conference play, last in the Mountain Division. The two worst teams in each division don't make the WAC Tournament.
Perhaps BYU's most disconcerting problem is that they aren't improving with time. Their year-long shooting problems continued. Their defense was inept. Their ballhandling was abysmal.
Their only hope is that UTEP, UNLV and Air Force falters. The Cougars could help that plan along by winning twice this week against UNLV and Air Force in the Marriott Center. But both teams beat BYU earlier this year.
As has been the case all season with the Cougars, they went through an extended scoring drought that decided the game. Same story, different timing. BYU went 8:38 without scoring in the first half, rather than fading in the second half. In that span the Cougars went from a 12-9 deficit to 23-9.
The dark stretch was as much due to poor ball-handling as shooting. The Cougars committed eight turnovers and missed two shots in that span.
Still, BYU wasn't quite finished. The Cougars cut the lead to 23-18 shortly after being helped by a flagrant foul called on Wyoming's Andy Young, who was ejected. Young briefly stepped on Brian Hamilton as he lay on the floor, drawing the call that ended his night. Still, the Cowboys closed out the half by extending the lead to 38-24.
All things considered, the loss was a familiar scene. Ill-timed turnovers, missed shots and muffed plays sabotaged any chance they had to challenge the Cowboys. A BYU foul at the buzzer to end the first half sent the Cowboys into the locker room with a 14-point lead.
Although the Cougars were optimistic about their chances, the game was at Wyoming, where the Cowboys are 12-2. Though they did lose at BYU, they beat New Mexico when the Lobos were ranked 10th, and Utah, ranked No. 5 - both in Laramie. Wyoming improved to 17-6 and 7-4.
BYU closes out its home season this week's games against Air Force and UNLV, then wraps up the regular season with a road swing to New Mexico and UTEP.
"Since I first came here we've just sort of flip-flopped," said Selleaze. "First we always played good defense but couldn't score, now it's like we can't stop anyone but we're scoring points."