The conference season is long, and what happened in game five is often long forgotten by game 15. The BYU Cougars hope that will be the case after Wednesday night's crushing 70-69 home loss to St. Mary's--a game decided when Matthew Dellavedova's last-second 30-footer settled through the hoop as the horn blew at the Marriott Center.
Only seconds before, as Tyler Haws' wrong-foot 10-foot fadeaway gave BYU a two-point lead with 0:02.5 showing on the clock, the Cougars appeared to have cemented a crucial WCC victory, which would also firm up BYU's status on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The win and its implications were wiped out on Dellavedova's daggger.
After a one-point loss ending in such dramatic fashion, the natural tendency is to look for particular plays here and there, scattered throughout the game, that if run differently, could have meant the difference between victory and defeat. Certainly, those plays are there to be found, but identifying them has to be done with an understanding that BYU did much of what it needed to do, to beat St. Mary's.
Consider that BYU outshot the Gaels from the field, the three-point line and the free throw stripe, and in the eight-season Dave Rose era, BYU had never lost a home game when outshooting the opposition in all three categories. Indeed, only one other time under Rose had BYU lost a game in that situation--more than four years ago, when BYU dropped a 76-75 neutral floor heartbreaker to Arizona State, also on a last-second play (a waved-off Charles Abouo lay-in).
Consider that BYU shot 53% on the night; it's the first time this season that the Cougars lost when making at least half their shots. BYU's Rose-era record when shooting 50%+ FG was 89-7 before last night's loss.
The mere fact that BYU outshot the Gaels makes the setback an anomaly, as before Wednesday BYU was 163-10 under Rose when recording the better shooting percentage.
What BYU did not do was control tempo or the backboards, and both factors were key elements of the loss.
Coming into the St. Mary's game, BYU was a top 25 team in tempo (Ken Pomeroy ratings), averaging about 72 possessions per game. St. Mary's lulled BYU into a 63-possession contest, a season low for the Cougars, as were their 51 field goal attempts.
BYU was minus-12 in the rebound margin in two losses to St. Mary's last season, and last night in Provo, the Gaels were again dominant on the glass, at plus-7, but more importantly, St. Mary's had a nine-rebound edge on the offensive window, corresponding with the Gaels' nine FGA advantage. BYU actually made two more shots from the field than St. Mary's, but the Gaels used their extra chances to take three-pointers, and their 10-for-25 performance from the arc was a difference-maker, negating BYU's higher percentage on 6-for-13 shooting from distance.
BYU's Big Three played significant roles as expected, but not necessarily in ways entirely anticipated--
Tyler Haws: a 3-for-9 shooting first half was followed by a 5-for-7 performance in the second half. After making one of two free throw attempts in the first half (including a front-end miss), he made all six of his free throw attempts in the second half.
Late in the game, when BYU went through Haws, the Cougars were almost always rewarded. His last two makes, with 41 and 2.5 seconds to play, gave BYU two-point leads. His second-to-last made shot was a high-degree-of-difficulty 18-footer from the right corner with a man in his face. Haws finished with 23 points--a sixth straight game with 20+ points, his second such streak of the season. Haws is simply special; end of story. If Dave Rose were to ever enact an edict by which Haws has to shoot at least 20 times per game, I'd be more than okay with that.
Brandon Davies: through his first 13 games, Davies was averaging 20.3 points per game. In his 14th game (versus Virginia Tech), and on the way to his eighth 20-point outing of the season, Davies sprained his right ankle. He left that game with 17 points, and since the sprain, has not been the same.
While Davies did not miss a game and the ankle has gotten progressively better, Davies' play has stagnated. In the five games since the injury (the first five games of WCC play), Davies has scored 12, 6, 19, 13 and 12 points, while shooting 50% or better from the field only twice. Averaging 7.9 rebounds/game in non-conference play, Davies has grabbed 5.6 rebounds/game in league competition. Of course, that number is dragged down by his performance against St. Mary's, in which he played 24 minutes without securing a single rebound.
Davies' game against St. Mary's was among his least effective. Of his five fouls, only one was earned while contesting a shot beneath the basket. Of his eight shot misses (on 14 attempts), many were awkward and flailing. His first two minutes of play to start the second half were indifferent and detrimental.
With his team leading by seven at halftime, Davies took BYU's first three shots of the second half, starting with a three-pointer from the left angle (his first non-straight away triple attempt this season), followed by a stumbling fall-away air ball, and an off-balance banked jump hook. All three shots missed. On the defensive end, Davies fouled on a high show, and then on a swipe in the lane. A minute and 40 seconds into the half, Davies was 4-for-11 from the field and on the bench with three fouls, while the Gaels were within a single possession.
Davies is very important to BYU, yet in his current state, the senior center is not dependable or consistent enough to be considered the Cougars' floor leader; that role belongs to the sophomore Haws. For BYU to maximize its potential, Davies has to get his head right and return to doing what he does best. The ankle may have been the initial catalyst for his present slide, but with the healing process where it is, Davies' challenges now are as much mental as physical. Last season, Davies' non-conference performance paled against his play in league. So far this season, the opposite has occurred, and it finally caught up to the Cougars, against the Gaels.
Matt Carlino: much of Carlino's line shows an effective night--16 points on 6-for-12 shooting, 2-for-4 from three, and 2-for-3 from the free throw line. There were four rebounds and five assists. But after an impressive offensive start in which he hit his first four shots (for 10 points), Carlino was 'off' on his decision making for most of the rest of the night. In the preceding week, Carlino registered 12 assists and zero turnovers. Against St. Mary's, Carlino had six turnovers, and of his six misses, I saw only one 'good' shot. In the second half, he went 1-for-6 from the field.
On the decisive final play following Haws' make, Carlino went to freshman Jordan Giusti, when Dellavedova was open on the opposite side of the floor. Late defense on Dellavedova gave him the path he ran before launching his game-winner. This is not to assign sole responsibility to Carlino for Dellavedova's availability in what was a frantic game-ending scramble, but rather to observe that Carlino probably wishes he had chosen to stay closer to the Gaels' go-to guy.
It's tough to be compared to Dellavedova, but the contrast between the two starting floor generals is naturally drawn after watching the Gaels' senior point guard orchestrate his team's win. Dellavedova went 6-for-16 from the field, but almost without exception, the shots he took and missed are the shots the offense was designed to give him. If Carlino were missing shots in the flow of the offense, he would likely not have gone 1-for-6 after halftime. When Carlino is not forcing things, he can be incredibly effective. Last night, his haste made waste, at crucial stages of the game. A 'hidden' play that involved Carlino helped underscore Dellavedova's experience advantage and highlighted Carlino's decision-making struggles last night.
With BYU having battled back from down six over ten minutes to finally take a late one-point lead on a Brock Zylstra three-pointer, the Marriott Center was rocking and the Cougars had momentum. After a Gaels' timeout, St. Mary's inbounded the ball to Dellavedova. But as the ball was thrown in, Carlino came over the Aussie's back--a needless foul that put Dellavedova at the free throw line on the Cougars' seventh team foul. Two free throws later, the crowd was stilled, and the Gaels were back in front.
It was just one play, but an important play at the time, and one that demonstrated the difference between a four-year leader and national team member and a young point guard still learning his way along. And that is how I choose to view Carlino's game last night: as a learning experience we can hopefully view in retrospect to show how far he has come, a couple of seasons from now.
As a team, BYU can, indeed must, take last night's heartache and learn from it. The Cougars must create from the loss a sense of resolve and renewed toughness. BYU's goals are all still within reach. There need be no concessions; the Cougars' toughest foes (including St. Mary's, at least one more time) and biggest games are still in front of them. Prospects of a seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, while nudged slightly back last night, are by no means extinguished after a single loss to a high-caliber team.
With a home loss on its ledger, the Cougars' margin for error has certainly narrowed, but I have covered BYU teams in similar predicaments in the past. Dave Rose's squad will get its chances to make amends, and make a run at the conference crown. The league tournament in Las Vegas awaits at the end of it all, and a league tourney title remains the one prize un-won by Rose during his tenure.
The pain from last night's loss lingers, but much more important than those final two seconds are all the games to be played in the next two months. Selection Sunday's script is not even close to being written.
Photo: Courtesy Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News