PROVO — In the West Coast Conference opener, perimeter shots weren’t falling for BYU.
But in the end, that didn’t matter because of the aggressive play of Yoeli Childs and Elijah Bryant, who put on dominating performances as the Cougars earned a 69-45 victory over Portland Thursday night before a crowd of 16,592 at the Marriott Center.
It marked BYU's ninth consecutive win.
Childs and Bryant both recorded double-doubles — Childs scored a career-high 26 points and pulled down 13 rebounds while Bryant registered a career-high 15 rebounds to go along with 22 points.
“Eli and Yo were huge on both ends, rebounding the ball and converting baskets at the rim,” said coach Dave Rose. “They did a great job getting to the free-throw line. That was a good lift for us.”
Yes, the Eli and Yo Show carried the Cougars most of the night.
Childs had four dunks and hit 8 of 12 shots from the free-throw line while going strong against the Pilots’ 7-foot-2 center, Philipp Harwich. But that aggressiveness wasn’t necessarily part of the game plan.
“That’s how the game unfolded. We’ve been talking all year about how no matter what the defense does, it’s wrong,” Childs said. “Their big is a great shot-blocker. He was coming over our guards and I was getting easy dump offs. Then they tried to take that away and Eli had a ton of cuts to the lane. We’re a frustrating team to guard when we play like that, when we play unselfishly. Nobody cares who scores, nobody cares about their numbers. Everyone just cares about making the right play and getting the win.”
Still, getting that first win in conference play wasn’t as easy as the final score would indicate.
BYU (12-2, 1-0) led 38-37 with 14:23 left in the game before holding Portland scoreless for more than 6:30 midway through the second half as part of an 18-2 Cougar run.
The Pilots (6-8, 0-1), who live and die by the 3-point shot, made only 2 of 15 from deep in the second half. For the game, Portland shot just 29 percent. The Cougars held the Pilots to their lowest scoring output of the season.
“They shoot almost 25 (3-pointers) a game,” Rose said. “They shot 27 here tonight. They make 10-plus and we held them to just seven … That was a good way to start the league with a game where I thought our guys were really committed on the defensive end. It’s a team that is hard for us with their size and how they play, spreading you out. It makes it hard to guard the perimeter.”
“We’re just going into practice every day with the mindset of being better on defense,” Childs said. “With the guys we have, the offense is going to come. Every game we’re just trying to lock in more and more on that defensive side.”
BYU also struggled from 3-point range, going 3 of 15 — with Bryant making two of those. Childs and Bryant combined to hit 19 of 31 shots from the field.
“What we saw tonight was a really aggressive, driving Eli, which is really good to see. That means he’s feeling a lot more confident with how he feels,” Rose said. “He’s capable of making 5 of 6 3’s in a game. Tonight he hit two big ones for us. The way he handled that ball, came off screens and assisted it, he was multi-faceted. It really helped us.”
Rose also liked Childs’ fearlessness in the paint.
“Our guys are pretty confident in getting him the ball. He does a good job of sealing and getting a good angle,” he said. “He made a couple of drives to the rim that were really aggressive and finished strong. We’ll need a lot more of that. You can’t rely on shooting shots all of the time. Sometimes you’ve got to be really determined to get to the free throw line and get to the front of the rim and score. We did that tonight.”
Portland led 8-6 early on before BYU went on a 13-3 run to go up 19-11. After the Pilots drew within 21-20, the Cougars ended the half with 10 straight points by Childs, which included three dunks.
At intermission, BYU led 31-24. At that point, the Cougars were shooting 52 percent compared to 33 percent for Portland. While BYU was 1 of 9 from 3-point range, the Pilots hit 5 of 12 from deep.
“It’s a good thing we got a few turnovers, which led to easy baskets because we were having a heckuva time scoring in the first half,” Rose said. “In the second half, we even got better defensively, which is a good sign.”
The Cougars host Saint Mary’s Saturday.