PROVO — Coming into league play, the Cougars had a 10-4 record and a lot of question marks remaining from the preseason.
Unfortunately, in Thursday’s 92-51 blowout of Loyola Marymount in the WCC opener, many remain unanswered for the Cougars in their 11th win.
Although the Lions came to Provo a year ago and beat Dave Rose’s team from start to finish, they started fast and faded quick in 2013. It wasn’t a measuring stick as much as it was a whipping stick. BYU out-rebounded the Lions 55-28.
Could the Cougars compete against big physical teams? In losses to Florida State, Baylor and Iowa State, I’d say no. But Thursday’s opponent was not that kind of stout challenge. In this WCC opener, BYU faced an athletic, motion-oriented team featuring the league’s top scorer, 5-10 point guard Anthony Ireland (21.3 ppg).
Could BYU play a defense capable of holding a league team to around 60? Could it defend Ireland with its zone? Could the Cougars find a third scorer, would Tyler Haws keep his momentum after dropping 42 against Virginia Tech and would Matt Carlino, the biggest Cougar X-factor, show something?
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. But the jury’s still out.
“We may not shoot well all the time, but we have to defend, and I think we did that tonight,” said guard Carlino, who had a season-high 21 points.
The first few minutes, things didn’t look good for the Cougars.
LMU raced to an 11-5 lead, and the Cougars looked a little stunned. Like post-New Year’s Eve indigestion, it passed quickly.
Carlino and Haws took over the game. In the final 12 minutes before the half, BYU caught on fire.
LMU doesn’t have the pylons of Gonzaga, the post play of St. Mary’s. It has to work the angles, and BYU started cutting the Lions apart.
With a little help from ever steady but injured senior Brandon Davies, the Cougars exploded with a 10-0 run in less than two minutes.
Carlino drove and finished. He hit big Nate Austin on a fast break alley oop and dunk. Carlino then hit a 3-pointer. Haws buried two bombs from distance. Carlino then added a pair of treys, and when Haws finished on a dive inside the paint, the Cougars were suddenly up 35-20 at halftime.
Ireland picked up two fouls in the closing 10 seconds of the first half and hacked Haws for his third personal foul just 12 seconds after intermission.
Haws and Carlino resumed their onslaught on the 7-6 Lions.
The story of the night was Carlino. In a fast-man’s game, he pushed the action and he wielded a deadly shot from the outside. His quick scoring spurt early set the tone for the win. He was simply too much for the Lions to handle, especially in the open court where Ireland found himself on a real island, so to speak.
Yes, Carlino still got caught in no-man’s land with inexplicable midair turnovers. But he atoned by scoring. He knocked down 4 of 8 three-pointers as the Cougars converted 10 of 23 from distance.
Josh Sharp hauled down 12 rebounds, 8 on the offensive end — an unusual number for a Cougar, second best in school history, tying him with Steve Schreiner, Ron Seleaze, Ken Roberts and Jared Miller — all players in the ’90s.
Fresh off his 42, Haws had a solid 20 with 9 rebounds. He was 6 of 13 from the field.
“The most important thing is we played defense, that was the difference and that is what we have to do to be successful,” said Carlino.
The Cougars held the Lions to just 31 percent shooting and only 6 of 22 from beyond the arc. BYU outscored LMU 36-18 in the paint and had 19 points off offensive rebounds.
The Cougars may not have got all questions answered against LMU, a squad that obviously struggled mightily after the first eight minutes.
A better test comes Saturday at San Francisco.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.