The game started at a pedestrian pace, as the Waves slowly but surely built a 22-18 lead over the first 13 minutes of the game. In that span, they only used six players, as McGowan was the only reserve to see action. The game plodded along in a defensive struggle until BYU ended the half on a 16-4 spurt to take a 34-26 lead to the locker room.
The second half saw a new energy in the Waves, as they scored the first eight points of the period to tie the game at 34. After that, it was a remarkable display of individual skills on both sides that made this one of the most entertaining and well-played basketball games Firestone Fieldhouse has seen in years.
The opponents jockeyed for the lead for the rest of the second half, neither team opening up a commanding lead. McGowan and Brazzle, who flirted with foul trouble, both picked up their fifth in the last few minutes of the half and suddenly the Waves' short rotation looked very bare.
So coach Paul Westphal turned to Lewis.
Lewis injured his left wrist in a nasty fall at UCSB on Dec. 8, and has not played a full game since. He averaged just ten minutes in last weekend's Fiesta Bowl tournament, and had yet to appear in this game. But his impact was immediate.
The Waves held a precarious lead when BYU began hacking at Cedric Suitt, the Waves' poorest foul shooter on the floor. He missed three of four before Mike Westphal entered for free-throw purposes with the Waves up 69-66. But an ill-advised inbounds pass negated the move, as a seventy-foot pass from under the BYU basket was recovered by the Cougars, who missed a three-pointer but picked up the loose ball and drained the game-tying shot with 9.4 seconds left. Both teams squandered possessions after that and the game was headed for OT.
In his three minutes of regulation action, Lewis sparked the otherwise stagnant offense with a three-pointer and three free throws.
In overtime, the Cougars struck first and went up 73-69 before Lewis hit a three-pointer. After another BYU basket, Lewis drained another three and tied the game at 75. After trading baskets, the Waves turned to Terrance Johnson, whose three-pointer put them ahead for good, 80-77.
The 3,378 in attendance witnessed one of the great performances of the NCAA season by BYU's Travis Hansen. The 6'6" guard put up 32 points and 17 rebounds and nearly single-handedly overcame the Waves' balanced attack. Point guard Matt Montague set the tone for the Cougars with a stellar 12 points, eight assists, six rebounds, and a single turnover. Local favorite Bobik managed just six points before fouling out.
Though Johnson and Miggins shot a collective 11-34, they managed to hit the big shots when they counted. Miggins led five Waves in double figures with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Johnson added 14 and 6. Lewis played just eight minutes but hit three three-pointers and three free throws to finish with 12 points that bailed the Waves out. Cedric Suitt played one of his best career games with eight points, ten rebounds, and five blocks.
Three factors made this an entirely different game than any of the twelve that preceded it.
First, the Waves relied much less on the trademark full-court press. The press was there, but the coaches recognized that an excellent jumpshooting and ballhandling team like BYU (10-3) would burn the overplaying style they usually employ. As a result, the Waves (7-6) played easily their best halfcourt man-to-man defense of the year.
Second, the team seemed to have taken on an entirely new identity offensively, with a shorter rotation, more player and ball movement, and countless set plays designed to take advantage of the individual skills of McGowan, Miggins, and Johnson. Only the starters and McGowan played double-digit minutes. Miggins, Johnson, and Devin Montgomery played over 40 minutes each. Meanwhile, Will Kimble and Micah McKinney never shed their warmups, and Gary Colbert, Mike Westphal, and Robert Turner played token situational minutes. Lewis entered only when two Waves had fouled out. A shorter rotation is common as seasons wear on, but this was quite a change.
Finally, there was McGowan. The much-anticipated return of the sophomore forward who was suspended all year until now was a definite success. He put up 13 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes before fouling out. His 3-10 performance at the free-throw line was alarming, but that can be attributed to rust. What was so encouraging was his ability to calmly stroke several 19-foot jumpers, then post up and draw hard fouls, and mix in a couple spin-move dribble penetration plays. He showed why the coaches have been raving all year about his potential -- he already has moves no one else on the team has.
The Waves finish the grueling non-conference schedule on a tremendous high note, and take on their first WCC opponent next Friday night at St. Mary's.