GAMES NOTES: West Coast Conference leading scorer Tyler Haws and the BYU Cougars will try to stop the bleeding when they host the Portland Pilots in league action at the Marriott Center on Saturday night.
Portland snuck by San Francisco, 78-76, on Thursday night for its second win in the last three outings. The recent success has earned the Pilots two of their three wins in 12 conference tilts to this point. The Pilots have a 10-17 overall record and have managed just a 2-9 record on the road.
BYU has had a week off since a 99-87 defeat to San Francisco gave the Cougars their second straight loss. It was just the second time this season the 18-8 Cougars have fallen in consecutive games and the first time since November. The slump has BYU falling out of contention in the WCC where it is 8-4 and third behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. The loss to San Francisco was even more troubling as it came at home for BYU which had won 11 of its first 12 matchups at the Marriott Center.
At the end of January these teams matched up at the Chiles Center. In that contest BYU rolled to an 85-67 victory to earn its sixth straight win against Portland.
Portland never trailed in the second half against San Francisco but also never led by more than six points. After the Dons tied the game, 72-72, with 2:01 remaining the Thomas van der Mars took over scoring the final six points for the Pilots, including a decisive layup with 14 seconds remaining.
Van der Mars (7.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) has been a solid contributor from the frontcourt for the Pilots. However the 6-foot-11 center has had nowhere near the type of production that forward Ryan Nicholas (13.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg) has had. Nicholas is the second leading rebounder in the conference and along with Santa Clara's Marco Trasolini and San Francisco's Cole Dickerson one of only three players in the conference averaging at least 13 points and eight rebounds per game. On the wings, Kevin Bailey (11.3 ppg) is the top scoring threat. The Pilots don't have much scoring punch after that, with every other player scoring six points per game or fewer. With such limited scoring options the Pilots are ranked last in the WCC in points (60.7 pg).
Though BYU didn't give San Francisco many extra opportunities with just seven turnovers, the Cougars couldn't slow the Dons down. The Cougars allowed San Francisco to shoot at a 57.1 percent clip and nail 14 shots from beyond the arc en route to the highest point total BYU has allowed to an opponent all season.
Although the two-game slump has hurt its win total it has not done much against BYU's offensive production. The Cougars are the second-highest scoring team in the WCC (78 ppg) while shooting an efficient 45.9 percent from the field. Making the extra pass is something the Cougars have made a habit of with the team 15th in the country and tops in the WCC in assists (16.2 pg). The Cougars also rank at the very top of the conference in rebounds (38.8 pg). Haws (20.7 ppg) and Brandon Davies (17.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) have been the reason for the Cougars' offensive success, as each rank among the top five scorers in the conference, while shooting better than 47 percent from the field. Matt Carlino (11.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) can score when called upon but has been more important as a distributor.
If BYU is going to make a run at a NCAA Tournament bid it needs to win games like this one, considering dates against Saint Mary's and Gonzaga still loom in the distance. Expect the Cougars to right the ship and ride another big offensive night to a much-needed win.