LAS VEGAS — For most of the first half Friday night at Orleans Arena, it looked like BYU would be going out of its final West Coast Conference tournament with a whimper. 

The No. 5 seeded Cougars looked listless and disconnected and they trailed No. 8 Portland by 13 points at halftime.

But BYU roared back to life in the second half, completely wresting away the momentum from the Pilots by opening with an 18-2 run, and running away from the Pilots for an 82-71 victory.  

“This group has been super resilient. This has not been an easy year for us. We’ve faced a lot of adversity,” said coach Mark Pope. “We were very focused on being present. All we talked about in the locker room (at halftime) was hey, don’t carry any of the first half back out there with us. This starting group changed the whole tone of the game. I’m incredibly, incredibly proud of our guys, but not surprised.”

With the win, the Cougars (18-14) advanced to a quarterfinal matchup against No. 4 Loyola Marymount Saturday (8 p.m., MST, ESPN2). The Pilots ended their season with a 14-19 record.

Over the final 20 minutes, BYU made some adjustments — and they worked perfectly. It outscored Portland 52-28 in the second half. Keying that surge was domination on the boards and points in transition.

In the end, the Cougars outrebounded the Pilots 44-21, and collected 19 offensive rebounds. BYU outperformed Portland in second-chance points, 18-7, and 24-4 in fast-break points. Twenty of those fast-break points came in the final 20 minutes of play. 

“Our guys completely changed that second half,” Pope said. “That’s been the identity of this team. When we’ve been successful, we’ve been the team that’s winning those (loose) balls. They did in the second half.”

“BYU played a phenomenal second half,” said Pilots coach Shantay Legans. “The first five minutes of the second half, they played really good basketball. They got out in transition and made some plays. They did a great job on the offensive glass. That’s been our Achilles heel all year and they took advantage of that. You’ve got to give those guys a lot of credit. … When you give up that many offensive rebounds, I think that was one of their keys to success tonight — get on the glass and get out in transition. They did a good job of that.”

And while the Pilots set a WCC tournament record with 19 3-pointers in their first-round triumph over San Diego Thursday, they made just 9 of 30 from behind the arc Friday.

The Cougars, on the other hand, knocked down 11 of 33 from 3-point range. 

And BYU also overcame a 31-point performance by Portland’s Tyler Robertson.

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While it looked like BYU’s season was on the verge of ending, and fell behind by as many as 14 points in the first half, freshman Richie Saunders kept the Cougars in the game. 

Saunders scored 12 first-half points, including three 3-pointers. He came off the bench to give his team a much-needed spark.

“We were stuck. Richie kept us afloat. He raised up and made some shots just to calm everybody down,” Pope said. “That’s coming from a freshman, in his first-ever taste of March Madness, which is pretty exciting. He’s got an unbelievable motor and an unbelievable work ethic. Clearly, he was huge for us tonight.”

For the game, Saunders finished with a team-high and career-high 18 points and seven rebounds. He knocked down three 3-pointers.

It was the second outstanding performance for Saunders in Las Vegas. He scored 10 points and six rebounds in BYU’s upset of nationally ranked Creighton in December. 

“This Richie Saunders loves Vegas, man,” Pope said.

Saunders said at halftime, the Cougars were resolved to turn things around.

“In the second half, that starting group changed the pace of the game,” he said. “In the locker room, nothing was over. We didn’t roll over. We came out and said, this is not done. If we lose, we go home. We’re not going to lose.”

Jaxson Robinson, who was held scoreless in the first half, scored 11 points in the first seven minutes of the second half, including a pair of 3-pointers. His second 3 gave the Cougars their first lead since the opening four minutes of the game. Robinson finished with 14 points and was 3 of 7 from 3-point range.

“I came out flat. Going into the second half, I knew I had to step up for my team,” Robinson said. “Everybody knew they had to step up. It wasn’t a great first half, so we came out with energy and the fight we needed and we got it done.”

BYU extended its advantage to as many as 10 with eight minutes remaining, but Portland battled back, pulling to within three points with 3:14 left.

But a Spencer Johnson steal led to a Saunders layup. 

Fousseyni Traore, despite being draped by multiple defenders all night, took over late. He ended up with 14 points and nine rebounds.

With three minutes on the clock, he hit a pair of free throws. Then he grabbed an offensive rebound after a Saunders miss from 3-point territory, and dished to Saunders for a layup. 

On the other side of the floor, Traore blocked a shot by Kristian Sjolund and sprinted downcourt and had a ferocious putback dunk that lifted the Cougars to a 78-69 lead with 1:06 remaining — all but sealing the victory. 

“He drew a whole bunch of defenders in there when he caught the ball,” Robinson said about Traore. “Then he found the open man every time to finish. It was really good to see because we needed it.”

“Fouss didn’t have the greatest first half and we usually punish teams that switch with him, which he did in the second half in an amazing way,” Pope said. “All of that was super complicated. In the second half, we wanted to push the ball to get through that. The guys did an incredible job executing simple play after simple play.”

BYU fell behind by double digits, 14-4, early on. But thanks to Saunders’ performance, the Cougars fought back to within two, 27-25 with 7:17 left in the first half. 

But what followed was an awful stretch for BYU that saw the Cougars miss 12 consecutive field goals and go almost seven minutes without a basket. Meanwhile, Portland went on a 13-2 run. 

That was even without Moses Wood, who was whistled for his fourth foul with a little less than six minutes left in the first half. Portland led at intermission, 43-30. 

Robinson loved the way his team responded and finished the game.

“In the first half we came out flat. Obviously we made some tremendous strides in the second half,” he said. “We killed them on the offensive glass, that was the biggest thing.”

“We played a great possession of defense for 25 seconds and then they’d shoot it and get the offensive rebound. That’s kind of deflating. That happened multiple times,” Legans said. “We only had seven turnovers, but we clumped them together the first four minutes of the second half.”

Now, the Cougars face LMU. The two teams split their regular-season series. BYU lost to the Lions in Los Angeles 64-59 on Jan. 5 and beat them in Provo 89-61 in Provo on Feb. 2. 

The winner of Saturday’s showdown faces No. 2 seed Saint Mary’s Monday night in the semifinals.

“It’s a great team. It’s a veteran team,” Pope said about Loyola Marymount. “They have one of the top guards in the league. Cam Shelton did a number on us at their place. They have huge size and are really, really physical.” 

Legans said BYU has a shot at winning the conference tournament title — if the Cougars play like they did in the second half against his team. 

“They’ve got a presence inside. This league’s really tough. They have a chance,” he said. “They have a big kid that can change the game. If they hit some 3s like they did tonight, they have an opportunity.” 

TIP-INS: Gideon George scored 12 points, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, and had six rebounds. … BYU has now won 14 consecutive games against Portland. … Since joining the WCC in 2012, BYU is 22-2 against the Pilots.