BYU entered Thursday night’s game against No. 25 Gonzaga having won five of its last six games, and while the Cougars have multiple players capable of putting points on the board junior guard Tyler Haws has been the star. Averaging more than 23 points per game on the season, Haws averaged 25.8 points per game during that stretch and surpassed the 30-point mark in two of those games.
With this being the case it goes without saying that Gonzaga would look to neutralize Haws, and with him scoring 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting the Bulldogs did a solid job of limiting him offensively. On nights like these the other pieces need to step up, and Dave Rose’s players did just that in the 73-65 victory.
As a result BYU moved to 6-1 in its last seven games while also taking an important step towards a return to the NCAA tournament after missing out a season ago.
Rose made an important change to the starting lineup, moving freshman forward Eric Mika to the bench and giving guard Anson Winder the start in the his place. And the move worked out for both players, with Winder scoring 17 points and Mika adding 13 to go along with eight rebounds. And with Matt Carlino, who scored seven of BYU’s final nine points, scoring 15 on the evening BYU’s reserves outscored Gonzaga’s 34-21.
Mika entered Thursday’s game on the heels of underwhelming performances in BYU’s 60-58 win at Saint Mary’s last Saturday, as he scored five points and failed to grab a single rebound in 17 foul-plagued minutes. Faced with their most important game of the season to date, as BYU entered 0-4 against ranked teams, Rose took a chance and moved his freshman big man to the bench.
There were two objectives to the move: to use Winder in defending Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos and to keep Mika out of foul trouble. BYU was successful on both fronts, with Pangos scoring 13 points on 3-for-9 shooting and Mika playing 24 solid minutes.
Keeping Mika on the bench at the start of the game was Rose’s way of preventing the freshman from getting into early foul trouble.
“I didn’t really mind it. I kind of liked it,” Mika said of coming off the bench. “It was nice to see how the game was going, how the flow was for a minute or two then be able to go. The big guys on the other team were a little bit tired because of the pace of the game. I think it helped my start. It definitely gave me an advantage … I didn’t realize I only played 24 minutes. It felt like I played 40 minutes.”
BYU has two games remaining before the WCC tournament, at home against a Portland team that beat them in triple overtime last month on Saturday followed by a game at San Diego a week later. With their current play and the fact that early-season wins over Stanford (fellow bubble team) and Texas are increasing in value, BYU looks to be inching closer to a spot in the field of 68.