Forty-five seconds.

That’s how long it took for the trajectory of BYU’s season to change drastically.

Of course, a lot has happened during the Cougars’ precipitous slide over the past few weeks, and there are plenty of reasons for that.

But it began with an exasperating 45 seconds at Santa Clara on Jan. 27.

Back on that date, going into that game, BYU boasted a 17-4 record, was projected as a No. 7 or No. 8 NCAA Tournament seed, had an NCAA NET ranking of No. 28 and it was No. 23 in the rankings. It was just one spot outside of the Associated Press Top 25 rankings.

‘It’s a painful loss’: BYU’s NCAA Tournament hopes take a big hit in setback at Saint Mary’s
3 keys in BYU’s 69-64 loss to Saint Mary’s

The start of the Cougars’ collapse can be traced back to a certain 45 seconds.

That’s how much time remained at the Leavey Center when BYU led the Broncos 74-70 — and had the ball. According to and ESPN, the Cougars had a 90% chance of winning the game at that point.

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

First, BYU had a turnover on an inbounds pass from Te’Jon Lucas to Gideon George, then it gave up a 3-pointer to PJ Pipes with 42.5 seconds left. 

Fousseyni Traore scored on a putback to propel the Cougars to a 76-73 advantage with 16 seconds remaining. 

Then Jalen Williams went coast-to-coast for a bucket with 8.8 seconds to make it 76-75. BYU struggled to get the ball inbounds again, but Spencer Johnson went to the free-throw line, where he missed with 6.5 seconds on the clock. 

That was enough time for Williams to dribble the length of the court and score in the paint just before the final buzzer. Final: Santa Clara 77, BYU 76.

It could be argued that the Cougars’ heartbreaking loss that night led, 48 hours later, to a hangover at lowly Pacific, where they inexplicably fell to a Tiger team that was ranked No. 303 in the NET and had lost seven straight games.

Then came back-to-back home losses to San Francisco and then-No. 2 Gonzaga, extending the the losing streak to four.

BYU was able to eke out a pair of road wins over Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine the following weekend to snap the losing streak, before Saturday’s 69-64 defeat at Saint Mary’s

Where do the Cougars find themselves now? 

BYU (19-9, 7-6) has lost five of its last seven games. It is in fifth place in the West Coast Conference standings. Before this season, the Cougars have never finished lower than third place since joining the WCC in 2011-12. 

BYU, which has a 3-4 record in Quad 1 games and a 4-4 record in Quad 2 games, is ranked No. 54 in the NET. And it is on the outside looking in, according to many bracketologists’ NCAA Tournament projections. As of Sunday morning, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi kept BYU in his “First Four Out.”

Cougars on the air

Loyola Marymount (9-16, 2-11)

at BYU (19-9, 7-6) 

Thursday, 8 p.m. MST

Marriott Center

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM

The Cougars’ at-large NCAA Tournament hopes are hanging by a thread. Among their problems — they don’t have any games left on the regular-season schedule to improve their metrics, and they have to count on other bubble teams to lose games, let alone fret about bid-stealers in upcoming conference tournaments.  

Of course, the WCC’s automatic bid will be at stake during the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas in early March, but top-ranked Gonzaga has captured 18 of the last 23 tournament titles. BYU has never won the WCC Tournament.

For now, the Cougars would be the No. 5 seed in the WCC Tournament and would have to play in the second-round game on Friday, March 4. They would have to win two games just to advance to Monday’s semifinal game for the right to play the Zags. 

What does it all mean?

Well, BYU is likely headed for the, um, National Invitation Tournament. One NIT bracketology website has the Cougars as a No. 2 seed in the 32-team field.

Postseason prospects aside, after three straight road games, BYU finishes up the regular season at home against Loyola Marymount Thursday and Pepperdine Saturday. 

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When asked about what Saturday’s setback at Saint Mary’s meant to his team’s NCAA Tournament hopes, coach Mark Pope said, “I don’t know any of that. I know a win would have been super helpful. For us right now, we’ve just got to find a way to regroup and play against a really tough LMU team on Thursday. That’s got to be all of our focus right now. We’ll see how much we can improve in this last 10 days before the WCC Tournament.”

BYU built an impressive, NCAA Tournament-worthy resume in the preseason — remember that 32-point domination of Oregon in Portland in November? — only to watch it unravel during WCC play. 

It all started during a difficult 45-second stretch at Santa Clara in late January. 

And now, it appears that the Cougars’ postseason destination in March has changed drastically. 

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