LARAMIE, Wyo. — There just hasn't been much panic in the BYU Cougars this season.
Even after seeing an early 10-0 lead quickly trimmed to five Saturday afternoon against the Wyoming Cowboys, the Cougars responded and pushed the margin back up to 13. When that lead was cut again back to eight late in the first half, the Cougars answered with four straight points to take a 40-28 lead into halftime.
And when the Cowboys came charging once again to cut BYU's lead to seven early in the second half, the Cougars again responded and pushed the gap back to 14. Then, when Wyoming gave it once last gasp with an 8-2 run to close within eight, the Cougars did what they've done so many times this year and threw a run at the Cowboys that was too powerful to recover from. This time it was a 16-3 stretch that put the Cougars comfortably ahead by 21 at the five-minute mark, and they coasted home from there for an 85-63 road victory.
"When Jimmer (Fredette) is playing well and they're trying to attack him and get the ball out of his hands, everybody feels like he'll make the next play and the right play," coach Dave Rose said of his team's ability to finish games strong and answer opposing teams' runs. "He'll get the ball to the right guy. He'll get it in the post. We'll get it swung or skipped for a wide-open shot, or Jimmer will make the basket himself. But I think we have a lot of confidence in our ability to make plays down the stretch."
The win improved the Cougars to 25-3, the best record in school history at the 28-game mark. The 1979-80 and '87-88 Cougar teams both had 24-4 records after 28 games. More importantly, the victory moved BYU to 10-2 in the Mountain West Conference standings, tied with New Mexico in the loss column. The Cougars host the Lobos this Saturday after first taking on San Diego State on Wednesday in the Marriott Center.
"The thing we need to know is that we're playing for a championship, and we're playing for a whole lot more than that," senior Jonathan Tavernari said. "We have to take care of business at home in this upcoming week."
Tavernari had another nice game off the bench with 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.
"I thought he played one of his smartest games of the season as far as offensively picking his spots, when to dribble and break the press. And he passed up a lot of JT shots that he would normally take, and we got a better shot out of it," Rose said.
Also keeping the Cougars in the game early was freshman Tyler Haws, who scored 12 in the first half and finished with 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal.
"I knew my shot wasn't falling the way I wanted it to, so I wanted to be more aggressive and try to play on attack and get to the rim and get something going to the basket, and I was able to get to the foul line a little bit in the second half," Haws said.
He hit 6-of-15 from the floor, but was a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.
"The way the game was played tonight and with the guys sharing the ball, I got my chances and I was able to make some plays . . . It's something you have to recognize. When something's not working, you have to go to something else," Haws said.
Fredette also scored 22 on 7-of-14 shooting and dished out four assists.
"This was a game where they really ran at Jimmer," Rose said. "They did the same thing at the Marriott Center, and they run at him, and Jimmer did a great job of finding the open guy, and then Ty made great decisions with the ball."
Even though BYU led 10-0 after a stretch in which the Cowboys missed their first eight shots, the Cougars felt that lead should have been larger. During that same stretch the Cougars hit only 4-of-12 shots, and most were good looks.
"We came up with a lot of empty possessions (in the opening minutes) offensively," Rose said.
But with Haws and Tavernari getting things done, the Cougars still led by 12 at the break. The game's big swing came when Wyoming's Ryan Dermody hit a three with 10:45 remaining that cut BYU's lead to 59-51. Rose called a timeout and set up a play to Tavernari, whom he said looked "pretty dialed in," for a shot in the left corner. Tavernari buried the trey, and then grabbed a rebound on the other end that started a break that resulted in a hammer dunk by Charles Abouo.
"It was a 15-second period where we went from up eight back to 13, and that was a big point in the second half," Rose said.
After a 2-and-1 from Cowboy freshman Desmar Jackson, who scored a career-high 26, the Cougars scored 11 straight to put the game out of reach.
"I really felt that down the stretch that we did a really good job of just kind of taking it possession by possession, got a really nice lead, and were able to finish it off," Rose said.