Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
PROVO — Rudi Williams and Gideon George made sure their senior night was one to remember.
Williams totaled 21 points and seven assists — including a career-high 15 made free throws — and George added 12 points and six rebounds as BYU built up a big lead and held off San Francisco 87-61 to emphatically snap a four-game losing skid Saturday night in the Marriott Center.
That crowd let the one-year graduate transfer from Coastal Carolina know it when he checked out witih five minutes remaining for freshman Dallin Hall for what the student section thought would be the final time.
A few minutes later, Williams came back in and nailed a jumper, which prompted the students to chant "Ru-Di! Ru-Di! Ru-Di!" That brought the announced crowd of 15,990 fans to its feet as both Williams checked out for the final time with George.
That moment meant the world for George, a self-described "Nigerian kid from New Mexico," who played his final three seasons of collegiate eligibility at BYU, and Williams. It was, simply put, "the best," George said.
"I'm so grateful for being here and for coming here three years ago, especially for the love from the fans for embracing us," George said. "I'm so grateful for being here. They just loved us, and the way people embraced us really speaks volumes. I'm so proud of everyone for sticking with us and cheering us on."
The moment "hit home" for Williams, whose career started at Kansas State before transferring to Coastal Carolina prior to enrolling at BYU last year.
count 'em up 😏 pic.twitter.com/6kdTm1JmuC— BYU Men's Basketball (@BYUMBB) February 26, 2023
"I can just imagine G; he built his blocks here a couple of years," said Williams, who recorded his 1,000th career point on Saturday night. "But for me, in my couple of months in Provo, it meant a lot to me. It hasn't been easy as a team or for myself personally. But knowing that this Marriott Center never got empty, and every night they came to support us, win or loss, it meant the world to us. I'm super grateful for that."
Fousseyni Traore added 17 points, 14 rebounds and five assists for the Cougars (17-14, 7-9 WCC) who clinched the No. 5 seed in next week's West Coast Conference Tournament with the win after shooting 52% from the field with nine made 3-pointers.
BYU will open the tournament Friday night at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
With Williams starting for the first time since Dec. 3, the Cougars shot 62% from the field and assisted on seven of its first eight made baskets en route to a 20-16 edge midway through the first half.
Williams had 7 points and seven assists with no turnovers, and George added 10 points and three rebounds en route to a 40-27 halftime lead of a senior night to remember.
Traore led all scorers with 11 points — including a rare 3-pointer — and six rebounds at the half, tying USF's Khalil Shabazz in scoring as BYU held the Dons to 38% shooting before the break.
And it wasn't just the seniors who exploded on offense. Jaxson Robinson had 12 points and three steals, including a deflection that turned into a fast-break dunk during a 10-0 run out of the break that pushed the lead as high as 23.
🏀🗑️ pic.twitter.com/a8bAtcrJM5— BYU Men's Basketball (@BYUMBB) February 26, 2023
But the night belonged to the seniors — no offense to Robinson, Traore or junior Spencer Johnson, who had 9 points, six rebounds and three assists.
"When you go through a season like this, it just tests your character," BYU coach Mark Pope said. "These two guys are incredible examples of great character. I think we still have a ton more basketball to play, but I couldn't be more proud of these guys' insides. It's hard.
"Very few people can do that, and these guys managed to come out with some joy and some fire. ... But we need these guys next week to lead us, and they can do it. They will do it."
Shabazz had 21 points to lead the Dons (18-13, 7-9 WCC), who trailed by double digits the entire second half. The Cougars limited USF to 34.6% shooting in the second half, outrebounded the Dons 42-22, and poured in 36 points in the paint to 20 with 15 second-chance points while San Francisco had just six offensive rebounds.
"It was a big win. Good to get out of this funk that we were in," said Williams, who gave credit to assistant coach Kahil Fennell for the scouting report. "All week, we went back to watch film of the trip we went up there, and the thing we really noticed was they were tougher than us, got on the floor, and we didn't. ... We made sure that did not happen again."