LAS VEGAS — BYU now knows its second-round opponent in its final West Coast Conference tournament.
No. 8 seed Portland defeated No. 9 San Diego 92-74 Thursday night in a first-round matchup at Orleans Arena to advance to play the No. 5 Cougars.
While the Pilots entered the tournament on a four-game losing streak, they were red-hot against the Toreros Thursday. Portland knocked down a tournament-record, and school-record, 19 3-pointers.
BYU and Portland collide Friday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv), with the winner taking on No. 4 Loyola Marymount Saturday in the quarterfinals.
“When we’re playing like that, moving the ball and rebounding, we’re a pretty good ball club,” said Pilots coach Shantay Legans. “That’s the best thing I’ve seen in a long time with that team.”
Portland nailed a flurry of 3-pointers and had four players score in double-figures, led by Tyler Robertson, who poured in a game-high 23 points and hit 5 of 6 3-pointer attempts.
Moses Wood dropped in 19 (3 of 7 from 3-point range), Juan Sebastian Gorosito had 15 points (5 of 9 from 3), Kristian Sjolund added 13 points (4 of 10 from 3) and Mike Meadows chipped in 12 (2 of 4 from 3).
The Pilots demonstrated impressive ball movement, recording 19 assists.
If Portland continues to play like it did Thursday, “I think we can win it all,” Legans said. “You make 19 3s, you move the ball and you don’t turn it over and you can rebound, that’s a pretty good deal. It’s a tournament. You’ve got to play games and you’ve got to play against the best teams.”
“We try to play like that in each and every game. We feel like we have a lot of elite shooters,” Robertson said. “We might not have had the season we liked to have from the 3-point line but we’re going to play with confidence, continue to shoot that ball and share it around. It’s fun to play when everyone’s touching the ball. If we can do that in each and every game, step up and knock down big shots, I feel like we’re going to be here for a while.”
BYU played Portland only once in the regular-season — a New Year’s Eve game at the Marriott Center.
The Cougars won 71-58.
The Pilots were shorthanded that night, playing without their top two scorers, Robertson and Wood.
But Sjolund, the 6-foot-8 Norwegian forward, more than compensated. He scored a game-high 32 points on 10 of 19 shooting from the field, including three 3-pointers, before fouling out late in the contest.
Sjolund scored more than half of his team’s points.
Robertson and Wood are looking forward to getting a crack at the Cougars for the first time this season.
“I think they’re a great team. They’ve got a lot of talent. They can also shoot the ball really well and they’ve got a big presence inside with (Fousseyni Traore). We’ve got to come in and compete, play our game,” Robertson said Thursday night.
“We’re going to get back to the hotel, rest up, watch a lot of film on them. Me and Mo, we’ve talked about it. We’re super excited to play against them this time. We feel like we had a chance to win that game on the road … Hopefully our team can play with the same confidence, the same ball movement and knock down shots tomorrow.”
Gideon George led the way for BYU in the teams’ lone meeting, recording in a team-high 20 points — including 15 over the final 20 minutes — on 8 of 17 shooting from the floor.
He also pulled down a game-high nine rebounds.
“They’ve got a great big guy inside (Traore). He’s an all-league guy. They have a veteran guard and a freshman guard that’s coming into his own right now,” Legans said. “(George) is very tough. He’s played good in every game that he’s played against us. They’ve got a good team.
“They bring guys off the bench, the back-up center (Atiki Ally Atiki). He’s a challenge. They have formidable bigs that we have to contest and compete with. Our Achilles heel is rebounding. They rebound the ball really well. That’s going to be a big part of tomorrow’s game. I’m hoping that we can get some bodies on guys. I think we can match up with them but they do have some size and they do give us some issues on that end of the floor.”
Earlier this week, BYU coach Mark Pope talked about the challenges that Portland poses for his team.
“This Portland team is super interesting. They’re ridiculously skilled. We saw what Sjolund did (in Provo) — and he’s their third- or fourth-leading scorer. He single-handedly put on a show,” Pope said.
“Wood is playing at an unbelievable level and Robertson is just a matchup nightmare because he’s a point-forward in the truest sense. They switch a ton on everything. They’ll push hard in transition but then they’ll be really methodical in transition in their halfcourt offense and really try to take advantage of matchups. They’ll try to find a matchup they like and keep going at it.”
Said BYU guard Spencer Johnson: “Portland has some really good players. Two of them were hurt when we played, so it will be a different game, for sure. We’re looking forward to showing them what’s what.”
Certainly, Portland is looking to make a run in this tournament — at BYU’s expense.
“Getting a game early, Thursday — we didn’t shoot for that. That wasn’t our goal for the season. Now, we have a different goal when the tournament starts. Our goal’s to win it,” Legans said.
“We’ve got to go 1-0 tomorrow. I go into it with the utmost confidence in this team. We can play with anybody. We’ve just got to do the little things that matter. We have a good chance in any game we play.”
West Coast Conference Tournament
No. 5 BYU (17-14) vs. No. 8 Portland (14-18)
Friday, 7 p.m. MST
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM