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BYU has lost 3 of last 4 games, but Cougars encouraged by performance at No. 14 Gonzaga

PROVO — BYU suffered its first two-game losing streak of the season after a 68-60 defeat at No. 14 Gonzaga Saturday night.

While the Cougars were disappointed, they also saw some encouraging signs.

Nobody knew how BYU would respond after a poor showing in its setback at Loyola Marymount last Thursday. But the Cougars gave the Zags all they wanted Saturday.

“It was a completely different team (Saturday). I’m proud of the guys and how we competed,” said forward Luke Worthington, who scored a career-high 16 points. “It sucks because we can’t count it as a win, but we played hard. If we can play like that, we’re going to have a great February. There’s no doubt in my mind that this can be a very, very successful team in March.”

Worthington added that he’s looking forward to a rematch with Gonzaga on Feb. 24 at the Marriott Center.

“I’m glad to know that we can compete at that level. That’s really the level we should be competing at every night,” he said. “You’ve got to make a couple of more plays and a few less turnovers. There were a couple of stretches there where we weren’t ourselves and turned the ball over. But if we clean that stuff up, I have no doubt that we’ll beat them at our place.”

Forward Yoeli Childs, who scored 14 points and collected 11 rebounds, also liked what he saw out of his team in Spokane.

“There’s a lot of positives that come from this game. For a stretch back in December we had that defensive edge, we had that competitiveness, we had that fire. We were close to getting that for 40 minutes,” he said. “We had a big emphasis on that especially after that game Thursday, to come out competing. … It sucks losing the game, but there’s a lot we can learn from that. There’s a lot we improved on. Like coach said in the locker room, we were completely different than we were 48 hours ago. I’m proud of the way our guys battled back and I’m excited for what this team can do.”

This week, the Cougars return home for games against Santa Clara Thursday and San Francisco Saturday.

BYU (18-7, 7-5) is going through a rough stretch, having lost three out of its last four contests.

Guard TJ Haws bounced back Saturday after a 2 of 9 shooting performance at LMU, knocking down 9 of 16 shots and hitting three 3-pointers against the Zags.

Guard Elijah Bryant, meanwhile, had his worst outing of the season, going 1 of 11 and 0 of 8 from 3-point range.

As a team, the Cougars made only 8 of 44 shots from 3-point territory during the weekend road swing.

“It’s a good shooting team but this trip we had a tough time from the line,” said coach Dave Rose. “We’ll get home and regroup and get things going again.”

Saturday, Worthington made his first start since the loss at Pacific on Jan. 6. Rose said he wanted his team to be more physical against Gonzaga.

“We were a lot more physical. The last three or four games, the physical nature of the game was won by the opposing team,” Rose said. “The key for us was to get back to where we’re competing physically, at least (as well as) the other team if not better than the other team. We lost some of our physicality and I think we gained it back (Saturday).”

Worthington found out during last Friday’s practice that he would return to the starting lineup.

“It was just a matchup thing,” he said. “It’s important to have a little bit of size down there.”

The 6-foot-10, 235-pound junior made the most of that opportunity.

“On any given night, it can be any guy’s game. People are going to be able to contribute in this offense, it just depends on how they guard you,” Worthington said. “Fortunately for me, I got a couple of easy looks around the basket. Those are shots that I count on making. I was glad I was able to contribute there. I just wish I had a few more (points) to walk out of here with a win.”