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Why BYU struggled at San Diego but managed to make big plays in the final seconds to escape with a 72-71 win

Playing without an injured Dalton Nixon, the Cougars had a tough time with the Toreros. But an alley-oop basket and a big stop sealed the Cougar victory.

SHARE Why BYU struggled at San Diego but managed to make big plays in the final seconds to escape with a 72-71 win

FILE: BYU forward Yoeli Childs (23) catches the ball during warmups before an NCAA college basketball game in Spokane, Wash., Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.

Young Kwak, AP

SAN DIEGO — BYU coach Mark Pope has been preaching to his team lately that on one of these nights, an outcome would depend on making a defensive stop to win a game.

That night came Saturday at Jenny Craig Pavilion.

The Cougars’ defense allowed San Diego to shoot 50% from the floor (including 58% in the second half) and it surrendered 42 points in the paint.

But in the end, the Toreros had the ball with 11.1 seconds remaining, trailing by one, with a chance to upset BYU.

On that sequence, the Cougars scrambled for a loose ball but USD managed to maintain possession. Given another chance with 2.6 seconds remaining, USD’s Braun Hartfield missed a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer to preserve a 72-71 victory for BYU. 

“We jumped in a huddle right after the game and Yoeli (Childs) said, ‘You told us we’d have to win a game on the defensive end,’” Pope said. “We weren’t great defensively. I should have made some adjustments schematically that I didn’t that I was too chicken to make. But the guys ended up winning the game on a defensive possession. That’s pretty awesome … I’m just proud of my guys for gutting it out.” 

“The best lesson for us was we won a really hard one. We gutted out a win when maybe we didn’t look great on the court.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

Going into USD’s final possession, the Cougars made sure to put defensive pressure on San Diego.

“We put in a little more length to get that stop. We did a great job of contesting the shot,” said TJ Haws. “(Hartfield) still got off a decent look. I’m happy it didn’t go in. It felt like it was up there forever.”

“It’s crazy how tight this team is and how we look at challenges and how we look at adversity,” said Childs, who scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds despite playing only 25 minutes due to foul trouble. “We came into that huddle and we were on the defensive end and every single guy was like, ‘I like this. I’m glad they have the ball. We have to end this on a stop.’ That mentality is going to take us really far.” 

Childs scored what turned out to be the game-winning basket with 11.1 seconds on the clock when he gathered in an alley-oop pass from Haws and dropped it in the hoop. 

“That was the easiest lob I’ve ever caught,” Childs said. “That dude can pass the ball.” 

Haws finished with 17 points and 10 assists. 

“Their big guy was pulled up a little bit and Yo slipped the screen and we got a good look,” Haws said. “It’s easy when you have a guy like that to throw it there. He’ll go get it.” 

Pope had faith that the Haws-Childs duo would come through in the clutch. 

“Him and (Yoeli) have done that a thousand times. TJ executed it beautifully,” he said. “He didn’t get held up on the hard show. That was the most important part of the play.” 

One of the reasons for BYU’s struggles against San Diego was it was playing without senior forward Dalton Nixon, who is expected to be sidelined for at least the next couple of weeks with an ankle injury. 

“I was super nervous about this game with Dalton being out,” Pope said. “It’s the first game we’ve played a game without him.”

“It just shows our grit and our fight. Not having Dalt tonight really hurt us and we’re going to have to figure out a way to be tougher and win more 50-50 balls without him,” Childs said. “The fact that we could get a win is a huge step towards that. We’ve just got to get tougher.”

BYU could have used Nixon’s energy against USD. 

“He brings so life to us on both ends of the floor, taking charges, making plays, coming up with 50-50 balls, getting offensive rebounds,” Childs said. “He does everything for us. We’re just going to have to grow without him for however long it is.”

With the win, the Cougars (21-7, 10-3) swept their southern California road swing and extended their winning streak to six games. But Saturday certainly wasn’t easy — there were 19 lead changes in the game.

“Game 28 was really hard for us. It was just hard. If you look around the country the last three days, there’s been a lot of weird games. That’s when it happens,” Pope said. “That’s why I’m so happy for these guys because we talk about having a special locker room. And a special locker room defines itself by finding a way to win this game when we’re not playing great. But they just gutted it out. I’m so happy for them.”

And, of course, the Cougars learned important lessons this weekend.

“The best lesson for us was we won a really hard one. We gutted out a win when maybe we didn’t look great on the court,” Pope said. “I wasn’t disappointed with my guys’ effort at all. We just didn’t look great. We were fighting it all game long. We fought into a win and that’s so incredibly satisfying. This is a huge win for us.” 

BYU hosts Santa Clara Thursday and No. 2 Gonzaga Saturday on Senior Night. 

The Cougars are hoping to build on Saturday’s white-knuckle victory. 

“Every win is huge for us. This San Diego team is good,” Haws said. “Their record doesn’t really reflect how good of a team they are. It was a battle from start to finish. I think it gives us a lot of momentum. We’re excited heading into next week.” 

Santa Clara (18-9, 5-7) at BYU (21-7, 10-3)

Thursday, 7 p.m. MST

Marriott Center


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