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PROVO — Between a broken shot clock, a system outage in the hosts' stats system, and a reduced-capacity crowd in the 6,150-seat Alex G. Spanos Center, it was amateur hour Saturday night in Stockton, California.
The only thing more amateur was BYU's defense — until the final two minutes, at least.
Too little, too late.
Freshman Nick Blake scored a season-high 20 points, and the Tigers snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 76-73 win over BYU, handing the Cougars their first Quad 4 loss of the year and instantly pushing the visitors from Provo to the brink of NCAA Tournament at-large consideration.
Forget what BYU had done previously, including a 17-6 record and 5-3 start to West Coast Conference play. The first two-game regular-season losing streak in third-year coach Mark Pope's tenure could have a dramatic impact on the rest of the season.
"At the end of the day, it's never the refs. It's never shot-clock malfunctions. Those are just on the list of challenges," Pope said. "The question is, can you rise to the level of the challenges? We have not done that the last two nights."
It was Pacific's first win in 46 days, since an 80-71 overtime victory on Dec. 14 against UC Santa Barbara. The Tigers had gone winless since, with losses to North Dakota State, UC Davis and Cal before opening WCC play with a prolonged pause due to COVID-19 exposure and a four-game losing skid.
It was the first win in conference play in 366 days for the Tigers, the second-worst team in the league per KenPom.com.
Alex Barcello led BYU with 19 points and six rebounds, and Te'Jon Lucas added 13 points and four assists. Gideon George scored 13 points with five rebounds, and freshman Atiki Ally Atiki totaled a career-high 8 points with three rebounds for the Cougars (17-6, 5-3 WCC).
GIDEON. GEORGE.#BYUhoops#MACU3 🔥 pic.twitter.com/cugKluvtQg— BYU Men's Basketball (@BYUMBB) January 30, 2022
Jeremiah Bailey had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers (6-13, 1-4 WCC), and Utah State transfer Alphonso Anderson totaled 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists for a Pacific team that edged BYU on the glass 39-36 and outscored the Cougars' bench 25-13.
The loss, combined with a last-second 77-76 loss at Santa Clara just 48 hours prior, shifts BYU from a near-surefire at-large NCAA Tournament bid to the thick of the bubble. In one weekend — one horrible, no good, very bad weekend — the Cougars went from looking like a borderline Associated Press Top 25 team to tumbling down virtually every metric.
"It's super disappointing. It all comes back to me at the end of the day," said Pope, who described his team as "super disappointed." "I didn't have our guys prepared or in the right frame of mind. We just have to figure out who we're going to be. This is a real test for us, and we'll see."
In 81 games, Pope had never lost back-to-back games in the regular season with the Cougars. And Saturday shouldn't have pushed that streak, especially without second-leading scorer Luke Avdalovic, who suffered an ankle injury in Thursday's road loss to Portland.
But it did.
BYU was a 13-point favorite against the Tigers, who entered the contest with a 5-13 overall record. Pacific was rated 267th in KenPom, 303rd in the NET, and tied for last in the WCC with an 0-4 start.
At least they were before Saturday. And while Saturday's loss doesn't necessarily knock BYU from at-large consideration, it does push those hopes to the brink, at least.
BYU didn't score for the final 3:48 of the first half and never led after the break. But the Cougars, who trailed by as much as 13 late, showed some fight, converting two full-court press turnovers for a 7-0 spurt to pull within seven, 69-63, with two minutes remaining.
The Tigers struck first and struck often.
"They shot it great tonight, almost 50% from three and 50% from the field," Pope told BYU Radio. "It's a credit to them, and it's a real issue with us. We've had back-to-back games where my game plan going in have not been great. I've got to fix that a little bit."
BACK 2 BACK #WCChoops | @BYUMBBpic.twitter.com/9SYnZmComg— WCC Basketball (@WCChoops) January 30, 2022
Traore's putback cut the deficit to four, 69-65, with 1:29 on the clock, capping a 9-0 run in just under 30 seconds. Barcello cut the deficit to two, 72-70, with a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left.
For as bad as the Cougars defended early, it was defense that came late. It just wasn't enough — and it doesn't get any easier. Quite the opposite.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi had the Cougars in as an 8-seed in his bracketology projections prior to Saturday night's tipoff, but the loss to Pacific will drop BYU by a full seed line, as most Quad 4 losses do.
The Cougars could easily be staring at a double-digit seed before the West Coast Conference Tournament on the first week of March. Any other slip ups could be disastrous for more than just seeding, too.
BYU takes its first-ever two-game losing skid under Pope into back-to-back home games against San Francisco and Gonzaga — two of the top-four teams in the conference. The Cougars will tipoff Thursday against the Dons (8 p.m. MST, CBS Sports) followed by a Saturday night tip against the No. 2 Zags (8 p.m. MST, ESPN).
In a college basketball fight that is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, BYU didn't do much for itself this week. A win in either contest — and much moreso, both — would dramatically alter their postseason chances as much as the two most recent losses.
"This game always asks you how you're going to respond. It's the only question that matters," Pope said. "I'll do a much better job moving forward, and I've got a terrific team that fights so hard. We'll get better.
"San Francisco will be the hardest game we played all year, just like Pacific was the hardest game we played. ... That's how the season goes: the next game is always the hardest game we play. I have a lot of faith in these guys. I think these guys will respond, that they'll ring the bell. I know that I'll get better, and we'll move on. That's what we do."