LAS VEGAS (ABC4 Sports) – BYU’s disappointing season almost ended in disaster. But the Cougars rallied past Portland to advance to the West Coast Conference Tournament Quarterfinals.

The Cougars erased a 13-point halftime deficit to beat the Pilots Friday night, 82-71. BYU will take on Loyola Marymount Saturday night in the quarterfinals.

“The guys were fantastic,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “They’ve been great all year at showing fight,” said BYU assistant coach Kahil Fennell. “Our guys really dug in and recognized what would help us win the game and then they went out and did it. We were the mentally tougher team.”

Richie Saunders led the Cougars in scoring for the first time in his career, finishing with a career-high 18 as BYU overcame its second largest halftime deficit during the Mark Pope era. Jaxson Robinson and Fousseyni Traore combined for 28 points, 26 of those coming in the second half. 

BYU outrebounded Portland 44-21 with 19 of BYU’s boards were on the offensive end including a career-high five from Saunders. 

Four made 3-pointers helped the Pilots go on an 11-0 run and lead 14-4 to start the game. The Cougars responded with a pair of 3-pointers from Saunders and Dallin Hall to cut the Portland lead to four eight minutes in.

Saunders continued to lead the scoring for BYU, adding two more shots from beyond the arc along with a pair of free throws to keep his side within striking distance. The Cougars trailed 27-24 with seven minutes remaining before Portland slowly expanded the lead to six at the four-minute mark.

A 13-1 run from the Pilots saw them go ahead by 14 with a minute remaining in the half before Tredyn Christensen secured an offensive rebound and made a layup plus the foul. BYU was scoreless for five minutes during the run, with the Cougars missing 12-straight field goals.

Portland took a 43-30 lead into halftime as the Pilots shot 51.7 percent in the opening 20 minutes. Saunders led the Cougars with 12 marking the first time in his career that the Riverton native has scored in double figures in the first half.

BYU started the second half on an 18-2 run to take the lead, 48-45, with two 3-pointers from Robinson. Spencer Johnson connected from deep as well and five different Cougars registered buckets during the stretch.

Five more points by Robinson gave him 11 in the first eight minutes of the half as BYU led 56-52. BYU’s fifth three in the second then came from Gideon George to expand the Cougar lead to nine.           

Portland would later get as close as four before Traore took over down the stretch. He had six points and five rebounds, including three offensive boards, in the final 5:37. Traore’s final points came on a dunk with a minute left and put BYU up 78-69. The Cougar defense held the Pilots without a field goal in the last four minutes and hit their free throws to close on a 10-2 run and win 82-71.

BYU scored 52 points in the second half on 56.3 percent shooting, connecting on 18 field goals. After nine turnovers in the first, the Cougars took care of the ball in the second with only three giveaways.

The Cougars will face against No. 4 seed Loyola Marymount in the quarterfinals of the UCU WCC tournament on Saturday, March 4, at 8:00 p.m.