SAN DIEGO (Feb. 24, 2007) - The No. 21 BYU men's basketball team lost a little bit of its magic Saturday, losing 86-74 at San Diego State to snap an eight-game winning streak. The Cougars fell behind big in the early going before making a comeback bid late in the game but could not make up the deficit, falling to 21-7 overall and 11-3 in the Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs improved to 20-8 overall and 9-5 in league play with the victory, having won seven of their last eight games.
"I thought that the first four or five minutes were a big factor for us," said BYU head coach Dave Rose. "We turned the ball over uncharacteristically. We haven't been in a situation like that for quite some time. We finally got into a rhythm in the second half, but we were just too far behind."
True freshman Jonathan Tavernari led BYU with 18 points and seven rebounds, tying his career highs in both categories. He scored 17 of his points, including five three-pointers, during a six-minute span in the second half to fuel BYU's comeback attempt. Austin Ainge followed Tavernari with 17 points and a team-high three assists while Keena Young posted his 24th double-digit scoring night of the year with 15 points and Trent Plaisted made it to double figures with 10 points. Sam Burgess came off the bench for a solid outing with seven points, two assists and two steals.
The Aztecs were led by 30 points from reigning MWC MVP Brandon Heath and 27 points from Mohamed Abukar. Heath also posted team-highs of seven rebounds and seven assists.
"Brandon Heath isn't the all-time leading score at SDSU and in the MWC for nothing," said Rose. "He's good with the ball. We knew we had our hands full, and we didn't do a good enough job to win."
SDSU got on the board first with an alley-oop dunk by Jerome Habel, but the always-steady Young answered for the Cougars. The two teams traded buckets again to a 4-4 tie until SDSU turned up the defensive pressure to force four Cougar turnovers and six BYU misses. The Aztecs took advantage of the Cougar confusion to put together an 18-point run and jump out to a 22-4 lead with 12:54 left to play in the first half. The SDSU run, which included 12 points from Heath, is the largest spurt BYU has allowed this season.
Tavernari finally ended the six-minute drought with a free-throw make at the 12:22 mark, but the Aztecs responded with two makes of their own from the charity stripe to run their lead to 19 points at 24-5. Lee Cummard finally made BYU's first field goal in almost seven minutes with a layin with 11:51 left in the half, but the Cougars found themselves with a lot of ground to make up. Despite a completely new lineup for the Cougars, the SDSU lead got even bigger after two more free-throw makes and back-to-back layins to go up 30-7.
Young ended the 6-0 spurt with a make and then capitalized on an Aztec turnover with a layin from Plaisted to finally reach double-digits in the half. Plaisted, who was fouled on the shot, converted the three-point opportunity to cut the lead to 30-12 with 8:51 to play before halftime.
Burgess then kept the BYU momentum going with a putback score while being fouled, converting the free throw to cap a 9-0 Cougar run and cut a one-time 23-point deficit to 14 points at 30-16. The two teams traded scores from there as BYU found its offense again but still had trouble getting stops on the defensive end, allowing the Aztecs to maintain a 14-point cushion.
Ainge nailed the Cougars' first three-pointer of the game at the 4:28 mark to cut the deficit to 38-25. He then rebounded a missed SDSU shot on the ensuing possession and started upcourt but didn't see Heath behind him, who took ball away and laid it in. Ainge's bucket proved to be the Cougars' last of the half as the Aztecs took a 43-25 lead into the break, BYU's largest halftime deficit of the season.
The second half started much as the first half ended as the Aztecs sandwiched a BYU make from Young with a layin and a dunk to go up by 20 points at 47-27. Young made good on a one-handed throwdown of his own and then drained two free throws to score six straight points for the Cougars and reach double figures for the 24th time this year. However, after trading makes, BYU still found itself no better than its 18-point halftime deficit, down 51-33 with 16:12 left in the game. Ainge drained his second three-pointer of the night to cut the lead to 15 points, but SDSU scored the next four points to keep the Cougars at bay.
However, after the Aztecs extended the lead to 21 points at 63-42, the comeback bid was on as consecutive three-pointers fell for Tavernari to reduce the deficit to 15 points with 8:33 left to play. After a layin from SDSU's Jerome Habel, Ainge and Tavernari drained back-to-back three-pointers to cut the lead to 11 points at 65-54, capping a 12-2 run. The Aztecs scored again, but Tavernari's hot hand continued with another bomb from long range to get to within 10 at 67-57 with 6:27 left to play.
"We weren't scoring the ball very well at all so we just made some adjustments and put Keena (Young) in the post and spread the perimeter out with shooters," said Rose. "I thought that adjustment was good. It got the ball into Keena, who was able to score easier, and then Jonathan (Tavernari) hit a couple big shots, which gave us energy."
Tavernari then picked the ball off and headed downcourt looking to get to within single digits but turned the ball over, resulting in a three-point play for the Aztecs. Heath then drained two free throws after a Cougar miss to push the lead back up to 15 points.
But the Brazilian true freshman wasn't done as Tavernari drained another three-pointer to score 17 points in a six-minute span, including five makes from downtown. Young added to the BYU run with a layin to get back to within 10 points at 72-62, but the Cougars could not get a stop on the defensive end.
After SDSU went up 81-67, BYU got five straight points, including a fifth three-pointer from Ainge, to cut the lead to single digits at 81-72 for the first time since the 16:25 mark in the first half. However, it was too little too late as the Cougars could not make up the rest of the deficit with 56 seconds left, allowing the Aztecs to record the 86-74 win.
The Cougars will play their final road game of the season Tuesday night at 7 p.m. against the No. 13 Air Force Falcons (23-6, 10-5). The Cougars defeated the Falcons 61-52 earlier this year in the Marriott Center, but Air Force has won 30 straight games at home, tying with BYU for the nation's longest active home winning streak. Despite the loss at San Diego State, the Cougars can still clinch at least a share of the MWC regular-season title with a win on Tuesday. The game will be televised nationally on CSTV.