(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
LAS VEGAS – In its first ever West Coast Conference tournament game, the BYU men’s basketball team survived a close one against the San Diego Toreros and moved on to the WCC semi-finals with a 73-68 win Thursday at the Orleans Arena.
The game came down to the wire, as San Diego refused to let BYU pull away in the final minutes. After the Toreros narrowed the lead to three at 71-68, the Cougars held USD scoreless for the final 1:37 to preserve the victory.
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"I'm proud of our players," BYU head coach Dave Rose
said. "It was a hard fought game and both teams played really well. Both teams were very aggressive in the first half offensively. But it came down to where we were making a play or two more at the end. It’s not often you go the last five minutes of a game without a field goal and figure out a way to win. A lot of credit goes to San Diego. They gave an incredible effort. They scouted us well and made it tough to catch the ball in the post."
Senior Noah Hartsock hit two key free throws with 6.5 seconds remaining to put the game out of San Diego’s reach. Hartsock led the Cougars with 19 points, including 15 in the second half, in his first game back from a knee injury.
“Coming in (to the tournament), I knew my knee wouldn't be 100 percent, but the trainers did a great job of helping me rehab and get stronger," Hartsock said. "I was able to come out tonight and really produce. It took a little while to get adjusted to playing again but hopefully my knee is even better tomorrow."
Junior Brandon Davies added 16 points, including 12 in the second half, while junior Brock Zylstra scored 12 and grabbed a team-high six rebounds. Senior Charles Abouo also hit double digits with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting.
Zylstra helped the Cougars jump out to an early lead by hitting his first three shots and scoring the first seven BYU points. Davies added four points following Zylstra’s strong opening to put BYU up 11-4 within the first four minutes.
San Diego tied the game for the first time at the 6:40 mark with a steal and a fast break layup. The Toreros scored nine points on eight first-half BYU turnovers.
The Cougars responded to San Diego’s outburst with a 7-0 run before the Toreros ended the half with six straight points to tie the game at 34. Zylstra and Abouo scored 10 and nine points, respectively, to lead BYU in the opening half.
The Toreros took their first lead of the game with the first bucket of the second half to go up 36-34. Hartsock and Davies then combined to hit their next eight field goals to put BYU up 53-46 with 14:00 remaining. The post duo scored 18 of the Cougars’ first 20 second-half points.
BYU pushed the lead to a game-high nine points at 68-59 with a 9-2 run with just over five minutes remaining. The Toreros slowly chipped away at the lead and had a shot to tie the game at 71 with less than 10 seconds remaining but missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
BYU will face off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs Saturday at 8:00 p.m. PST in the WCC tournament semi-finals. The game can be seen on ESPN2 and can be heard on KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM.