LAS -- The BYU men's basketball team lost 62-51 to San Diego State University in the first round of the 2002 EAS Mountain West Conference Men's Basketball Championship Thursday afternoon.
The first-round loss is the first for the Cougars in the history of the MWC tourney and its first since 1998. BYU made its way to the MWC championship game the two previous years of the tournament.
"Sometimes when you start missing shots, you just lose your confidence," said BYU head coach Steve Cleveland. "Defensively, we guarded them well and rebounded well, but we turned the ball over and didn't shoot well."
BYU never led in the game but pulled within four points with a minute remaining, 55-51, after a 10-4 run before the Aztecs went on a 7-1 run of their own to finish the game. "We just came out flat and just struggled shooting tonight," said BYU senior guard Matt Montague.
"You can't dig yourself in a hole the way we did tonight."
Montague had four assists for the game, and is now only five away from breaking Nate Call's single-season assist record of 204. BYU's worst shooting percentage of the year came at an unfortunate time as they hit only 18-of-59 shots from the field (31 percent) and 3-for-17 from three-point range (18 percent), both season lows. The Cougars had six assists to 16 turnovers, a season-low for assists and their worst assist-to-turnover ratio of the season.
Mark Bigelow led BYU's scoring efforts with 15 points, followed by Eric Nielsen who added 11 points along with 11 rebounds, his first double-double of the season and the first Cougar double-double in the history of MWC tourney. Travis Hansen had 10 points and seven rebounds for the Cougars, helping BYU out rebound SDSU 45-34. BYU's 45 rebounds were the second highest total of the year and the most against a Division I opponent.
SDSU used the first six minutes of the game to jump out to a 13-2 lead. Over the next six-minute stretch, BYU went on a 12-4 run to pull within three, 17-14, with 7:30 remaining in the first half. The Aztecs then scored seven unanswered points before BYU answered with four of its own to end the scoring for the first half with SDSU in the lead, 24-18. BYU's 18 first-half points were the fewest by a Cougar team in any half this season.
The Cougars were led by Hansen's six first half points, while the team as a whole only made 7-of-28 from the field (25 percent). Their previous season low was 35.5 percent at UNLV on Feb. 9. Previous to today's game, BYU had played very well at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Cougars posted a 7-2 all-time record in neutral court games at the arena, including an 81-76 victory over then-No. 13 Stanford.