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BYU starts with small lineup, defeats super-sized Portland 97-88

PROVO — So Portland started three players that are 6-foot-11, while BYU’s starting lineup featured four guards, including 6-3 Anson Winder, who replaced 6-11 Isaac Neilson.

“That was a little weird,” said Cougar guard Tyler Haws.

But which team played small ball Monday night at the Marriott Center?

While the Pilots’ 5-11 guard Alex Wintering — the smallest guy on the floor — scored a game-high 30 points, the Cougars dominated in the paint and earned their first West Coast Conference victory of the season, 97-88.

In his first start of the season, Winder scored 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field. He was one of five Cougars to score in double figures, along with Haws (24), Kyle Collinsworth (21), Chase Fischer (16) and Skyler Halford (12).

“It seems like we play that lineup a lot during games,” said Haws. “Anson’s more than capable of giving us a good start. We like having him on the floor.”

Coach Dave Rose’s decision to go with four guards paid off.

“It was pretty simple, based on the way we started the last two games,” Rose said of starting Winder. “We wanted to get off to a better start. It seems like second group in both those games came in and bailed us out. … We felt comfortable with four shooters on the floor. We got off to a decent start. … I liked the way we started the game.”

After losing to No. 8 Gonzaga on Saturday, BYU (11-4, 1-1), which doesn’t practice on Sundays, didn’t have much time to prepare for Portland.

“Without a day to practice in between, trying to invent something else is difficult so we went with the lineup we’ve been playing with the most the last couple of games,” Rose explained. “We wanted to get a better start, and we did. Mission accomplished.”

What the Cougars lacked in size against the Pilots, they more than made up for with aggressiveness. BYU outscored Portland in the paint, 44-22, with many of those points coming in the form of transition baskets (the Cougars outscored the Pilots in fast-break points, 16-0) and the guards scoring inside.

“We got a lot of those in transition, where we were able to get to the rim off a steal or a long rebound. Then we got our guards posted up,” Rose said. “It’s hard for guards to defend in the post. It’s something they don’t do a lot. If we can get Ty and Kyle posted down there and get some easy baskets, that will help us. Our post points this year are kind of few and far between. We need to score in that area.”

What’s the mindset when playing a four-guard lineup?

“(Coaches) told us at the beginning of the game the guards need to fly in there and get some rebounds,” Halford said. “(Portland is) big. But we were able to get around some of their bigs with quickness and get those loose balls and get out and run.”

“We wanted to battle and get the game going up and down and try to get some clean rebounds so we can get out in transition and really play the way we want to play,” Haws said. “We did that the majority of the night.”

Portland (10-4, 1-1) also had five players score in double figures, led by Wintering, who scored 15 of his 30 points from the free-throw line. Volodymyr Gerun (who stands 6-11) scored 14, while Bryce Pressley, Thomas Van der mars (6-11) and Riley Barker (6-11) each chipped in 10.

BYU led at halftime, 43-37, then started strong at the beginning of the second half, quickly building a 52-41 advantage.

Then the Cougars enjoyed a 13-0 run to push the lead to 67-50. BYU went up by as many as 22 — 76-54 with 10 minutes remaining.

“Our defense fueled our offense (in the second half) and we got going,” Halford said.

But Portland knocked down a bunch of 3-pointers, including three from Bobby Sharp (who hit eight threes in a win over BYU in Portland last season). At the two-minute mark, Portland trailed by only seven, 89-82, before BYU kept the Pilots at bay.

On the night, the Cougars scored 22 points off Portland turnovers and had 12 second-chance points.

But perhaps the stat Rose liked most was the 22 assists on 33 field goals.

“The one thing I was impressed with the entire game was how we shared the ball,” he said. “The ball moved from one side to another. … That’s a really good sign for this team.”

BYU plays its first two WCC road games Thursday at Santa Clara and Saturday at San Francisco.