BYU point guard Dallin Hall will get tested mightily and absorb his share of tough nights when the Cougars get to Big 12 play in January, but at least the sophomore will have Nov. 10, 2023, on his resume.
And the Cougars will still own rival San Diego State at the Marriott Center.
“It can do a lot of things for us. It gives us an idea of where we are at. I don’t think it affects our confidence, though. A lot of people have been counting us out from the start of the year. That has never fazed us. It is what is in our locker room, what is said there, what we believe in there that is all we care about.” — BYU guard Dallin Hall.
Hall made a couple big shots down the stretch and scored 16 of his team-high 18 points in the second half as BYU upset the No. 17-ranked Aztecs 74-65 in front of 15,689 delighted fans Friday, moving the Cougars’ all-time record over former conference rival SDSU to 31-4 in Provo.
It was the kind of win that could pay big dividends next March, assuming SDSU gets it going after losing five key players from last year’s Mountain West championship team and Final Four entrant.
And it just might have showed that BYU has the potential to be better than the 13th-best team in the 14-team Big 12.
“It can do a lot of things for us. It gives us an idea of where we are at. I don’t think it affects our confidence, though,” Hall said.
“A lot of people have been counting us out from the start of the year. That has never fazed us. It is what is in our locker room, what is said there, what we believe in there that is all we care about.”
It wasn’t a fluke, although it should be noted that SDSU was at less than full strength. But the Aztecs did come in ranked in the top 25, blew out Cal State Fullerton on Monday and still has athletes up and down the roster.
BYU was somehow favored by three points, and the Cougars quickly showed why, getting out to a 33-28 halftime lead.
The Cougars out-rebounded the bigger Aztecs 42-32, committed only one more turnover (14-13) than a team that thrives on turning teams over and owned the offensive glass, 12-7.
“Our guys’ commitment to getting (rebounds) was unbelievable tonight,” coach Mark Pope said. “That is an elite-level, national championship-game rebounding team.”
The Cougars led by as many as nine points in the first half, but the turnover bug bit late in the half, allowing the Aztecs to close the gap to five at halftime.
BYU’s turnover problems continued into the second half, along with at least a half-dozen missed shots at the rim, but the Cougars made all the big plays in the final five minutes to avenge a loss last year at Viejas Arena in San Diego.
“Fist fight from the beginning,” is how Hall described it, adding that it was just what coaches said it would be.
“My teammates out there were physical. We executed our game plan. A couple (unsung) guys just really showed up to play. … Each guy stepped up for us tonight just like they have been training all summer to do,” Hall said.
“This is a big win for us, and just the beginning of our road.”
And Hall was the chauffeur, at times a reluctant one, at other times unabashedly bold and with a killer instinct that wasn’t always there last year.
After starting almost every game last year, Hall came off the bench because he’s been slowed by a knee injury that limited what he could do in training camp and allowed him to play just 15 minutes in the win over Houston Christian on Monday.
The Fremont High product and returned missionary scored seven points in the final four minutes, 8 seconds, all while BYU’s coaching staff contemplated a timeout to give him some rest.
He finished 6 of 13 from the floor, 4 of 8 from 3-point range, in 25 minutes.
“If you asked me before the game if I was going to get 25 minutes out of him … that might have been a stretch,” Pope said.
Hall hit a pair of free throws with 4:08 left to give BYU a 59-55 lead after Micah Parrish had scored five straight points to start what looked like could be another SDSU comeback.
Hall made a bucket a minute later, then came the dagger — a step-back 3-pointer in Parrish’s face with 2:34 left that gave the Cougars a nine-point lead.
Fouss Traore and Richie Saunders made free throws in the final minute and a half and Spencer Johnson added a fast break layup.
Pope said he was walking out of the basketball facility two nights ago and Hall was still in the weight room, “putting a ton of work in the bank.”
“That’s who he is. He is a very special player. He was a special player last year as a freshman, which is really hard to do,” Pope said. “He is going to continue to be a great player here.”
San Diego State roared out of halftime with a 9-2 run to take a 37-35 lead, keyed by Elijah Saunders’ steals and fast break dunks. The Aztecs turned up the defensive heat, and BYU didn’t handle it particularly well the first 10 minutes of the second half.
The visitors hit 7 of their first 9 shots in the second half to take the lead, 46-42.
BYU responded with two more turnovers, but SDSU — down to seven healthy scholarship players — couldn’t capitalize. Hall’s 3-pointer with 8:07 left gave BYU a 51-50 lead, and the Cougars never lost it.
Then came the step-back trey.
“Yes, coach wants me to take that,” Hall said. “I have been working all offseason on my shots off the bounce. That was a big emphasis for us. He’s been trusting me to take it since, so it is just about having the confidence to do it.”
In the first half, Jaxson Robinson gave BYU a big spark off the bench, and when Trey Stewart nailed a triple with 3:18 left in the half, the Cougars had a 29-20 lead. However, BYU turned the ball over on three of its last four possessions of the first half, letting the visitors get back in it.
BYU improved to 72-10 when leading at halftime under Pope.
“We believe we can accomplish some really great things,” Hall said, noting that when NBA Hall of Famer and Utah Jazz part owner Dwyane Wade spoke to the team a few weeks ago he told them to be sure and celebrate the big moments.
“We are going to celebrate tonight as a team, but then we are going to lock in tomorrow and get ready for the next game and treat them as an even greater opponent that San Diego State because this is just the beginning of what we want to do,” Hall said.
The Cougars host Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday.