PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – BYU almost got caught looking ahead, but the Cougars pulled away from Santa Clara down the stretch Thursday night for their 7th straight win, 85-75.
TJ Haws scored 28 points, Yoeli Childs and Jake Toolson both recorded double-doubles, as #23 BYU held off the Broncos to set up a colossal showdown against #2 Gonzaga Saturday night at the Marriott Center.
Haws made 8 of 14 shots from the field and added 9 assists. Childs had 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Toolson poured in 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds.
“All three of us have had big nights,” Toolson said. “I think we were all aggressive and got to that free-throw line a lot. We were trying to make the right play. We always want to have an aggressive mindset. We’re encouraging each other. We’re lifting each other up. We’re trying to put each other in spots to be effective.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team, I am so happy,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “It’s the first time ever in BYU history that we have won seven games in a row in this conference. That shows how hard it is. The guys battled and figured it out. It was a much different defensive game plan against us than we are used to, but they managed to figure it out.”
Tied at 66 with just over five minutes left in the game, the Cougars clamped down on defense and outscored Santa Clara the rest of the way, 19-9, as Haws scored 10 of his 28 points.
“Coach has been saying all year, defense is going to win us games,” Haws said. “We needed an urgency on defense. They were making tough shots. They were getting easy layups as well. I think we buckled down on defense down the stretch and that helped us. Offensively, I thought we started the moving the ball really well and getting open looks. We knocked down big shots.”
BYU finished with a 41-32 advantage on rebounds in improving to 22-7 on the season, 11-3 in the West Coast Conference.
After BYU jumped out to a 40-30 lead at the half, Santa Clara opened the second half on a 10-2 run and made it a one-possession game when Trey Wertz and Keshawn Justice sank back-to-back 3-pointers to cut BYU’s lead to 42-40.
The Broncos took only their second lead of the game at 49-47 when Eaddy made a 3-pointer for his first basket. Santa Clara went 4-of-4 from long-distance through the first seven minutes of the second half after making only one 3-pointer before halftime.
But BYU took command with a 15-3 run to take an 81-69 lead going into the final minute. The Cougars made four straight baskets, culminating in a 3-pointer from Childs at the top of the key, to punctuate the game-clinching spurt.
The Broncos missed 12 of their first 15 shots from the field. It opened the door for BYU to surge ahead once the Cougars worked out of their own slow start. BYU scored on five straight possessions to carve out a 17-6 lead midway through the first half. Childs punctuated a 9-0 run with back-to-back layups.
The Broncos scored their first 10 baskets in the paint before Jalen Williams broke the ice from the perimeter to cut BYU’s lead to 34-26. Santa Clara could not get the deficit under double digits again before halftime. Haws hit four free throws –- interrupted only by a layup from Childs –- to push the Cougars’ lead to 40-28.
BYU now faces #2 Gonzaga (27-1, 13-0 WCC) in its home finale on Senior Night Saturday night at 8:00 p.m.
“They are really good,” Pope said about the Bulldogs. “I think they are the best team in the country right now and we get a shot at them here and it’s on senior night. It will be insanity, the joint is sold out, we’ve won seven in a row and they’ve won a lot in a row. We have this incredible senior class that is giving their heart and soul to BYU and to these fans and the program.”