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PROVO — Everything leads up to this moment.
BYU men’s basketball wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule Tuesday with a 77-71 overtime win over UMass at the Marriott Center, and after a few days off for Christmas, the Cougars will jump right into West Coast Conference play.
But the league didn’t schedule them any way to ease into the schedule. BYU will host Gonzaga on Saturday at 4 p.m. MST in a battle of two of the top teams in the league since BYU joined the WCC in 2012.
“We’ll get one of the best teams in the league on the first night here at home,” BYU coach Dave Rose said after dispatching the Minutemen. “I thought we had a great crowd today for an afternoon game, a really strange start time. But for 4 o’clock on Saturday, hopefully we’ll fill the building. I look forward to it.”
The Cougars (10-3) showed they could win with offense, such as against Stanford and Long Beach State, as well as with defense, such as Tuesday. But now, things get real as the Cougars face teams that have grown to know them well in their three seasons as a member of the WCC.
Still, BYU appears ready for the next portion of its slate — at least in terms of depth. Anson Winder came off the bench Tuesday to score a career-high 25 points as mainstay Tyler Haws struggled to four points on 2-of-9 shooting.
At one point in the first half against UMass, as the Minutemen held a 12-0 run to go up 16-9 midway through the opening period, Rose inserted his second-tier lineup of Winder, Skyler Halford, Jake Toolson, Dalton Nixon and Corbin Kaufusi. That group made up the difference in about a minute, and tied the game at 16-16 on Halford’s jumper a little more than 11 minutes before halftime.
“Not only is that great confidence for that group, but it’s really good confidence for our other group, to realize these guys can come in and pick us up at times,” Rose said. “As far as a satisfying win after a grueling non-conference schedule and a lot of close games, this should help us down the road.”
The Cougars also unlocked a defensive specialist in Frank Bartley IV, who came in during overtime and helped BYU allow only one field goal in the final 2:53 of the game.
Bartley, who finished with two points, three rebounds and an assist in 13 minutes, was told his primary responsibility was making UMass’ offense difficult, then get a few rebounds. The sophomore from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, would often rotate on every play with Haws, who came out on defense as he continues to nurse an ankle injury.
“The goal for the whole game was to not let them shoot in the paint,” Bartley said. “I think when we got to overtime, we were already focused, but it got us more focused. We were focused on those keys, and we made them shoot contested jump shots, then got the rebounds that we needed to win the game.”
Rose admitted it could be awhile until Haws is fully back from his ankle injury. In the meantime, the Cougars will “have to be patient” as they try to find other plays to step in and fill the scoring role of a top 10 scorer in school history.
“ I think we all knew we needed to step up,” Winder said. “Tyler was a little banged up, so we needed to step up our game. Our guys on the bench did a great job; Sky, Frank, everyone brought energy when they came into the game.”