PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – BYU improved to 2-0 in West Coast Conference play Saturday night with a 71-58 win over Portland at home in the Marriott Center. The win moved the Cougars’ win streak to seven-straight, five of which have been at home.
“It’s so hard to win seven in a row and these guys have done it with their grit, humility, hunger to get better and great leadership,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “We’re super excited about being 2-0 in conference but we have bigger challenges ahead of us and want to keep getting better. It’s pretty exciting that we were able to put seven games together and still believe we can get way better.”
Gideon George led the way for BYU with 20 points on a season-high eight field goals. He also had a game-high nine rebounds.Fousseyni Traore had 12 points and eight boards, with the Cougars getting scoring contributions from nine different players.
The Cougars shot 49.0 percent from the field, including 64.0 percent in the second half, while also outrebounding the Pilots 37-26. Portland had 32 points from Kirstian Sjolund, with the visitors shooting 37.5 percent on the night.
“I’m proud of the guys for fighting and staying true to the cause and staying with the game plan,” George said. “Portland’s No. 12 was going off all night and Spencer shut him down, we got multiple guys on him; Noah, Spencer and myself did a good job on him. I am really proud of our team overall.”
A 3-pointer from George on BYU’s first possession was the game’s only basket through the first four minutes. The teams went a combined 1-of-10 and committed four turnovers before Portland’s Sjolund converted a pair of free throws.
Spencer Johnson, making his second appearance back from injury, entered the game five minutes in, providing an immediate spark off the bench. The guard made a quick three before adding two more buckets a few minutes later, giving the Cougars a 14-7 lead with nine-and-a-half minutes remaining.
“Spencer’s been a guy that since the first day here was here, I threw him on the court and then I just didn’t take him off because he was doing such an impactful job off the defensive end as well,” Pope said. “Thankfully, for all of us, that’s been the same thing. He hasn’t missed a beat. He’s just going out and playing great basketball.”
Sjolund scored nine consecutive points in less than two minutes to give the Pilots their first lead of the game, 18-17. He then added a free throw to put the visitors up two with five minutes to go in the half. The Portland run also coincided with BYU committing turnovers on seven consecutive possessions.
George stopped the streak with an inside basket before Traore added three free throws on two different trips to the line to help the Cougars reclaim the lead. More free throws from both teams tied the game at 23-all before Sjolund hit a three to give him 17 points in the half. Dallin Hall responded with a three of his own, with his step-back jumper sending the teams to the break tied at 26.
The Cougars had 12 turnovers in the half but outrebounded the Pilots 22-13. Portland only had three players outside of Sjolund combine for nine points, while BYU saw seven different players score. Johnson led the way with seven points on 3-for-5 shooting, with George contributing six rebounds.
BYU started the second half with three points on four consecutive possessions. Traore converted a layup and the foul before George and Noah Waterman combined to score three buckets from beyond the arc. The 12-3 run gave the Cougars a 38-29 lead.
From there the teams traded buckets for the next seven minutes, with BYU eventually holding a 50-43 lead with 10 minutes remaining. George had 10 points during the stretch, with the senior finishing with 15 second-half points on 6-of-10 shooting, including a trio of three-pointers.
Atiki Ally Atiki scored two baskets for his first points of the game to give the Cougars an 11-point lead with six minutes remaining. He would continue to help keep Portland at bay, subsequently catching an alley-oop from Waterman for his third basket in as many possessions. A Jaxson Robinson three then put BYU up 63-49 at the 4:53 mark.
Portland had the opportunity to cut the lead to single digits in the final minute, but Alden Applewhite missed two free throws. The Pilots missed eight shots from the line in the second half while shooting into BYU’s student section, the ROC. Rudi Williams then iced the game for the Cougars after the Applewhite miss with a step-back three, with the basket good for the team’s final points in the 71-58 victory.
BYU puts its perfect WCC record to the test next weekend with a trip to Southern California beginning with a showdown against Loyola Marymount on Thursday, January 5, in Los Angeles.