“Who’s that guy?” A history of inexplicable losses and career nights against BYU in the WCC

LMU's Keli Leaupepe drives against BYU's Gideon George in a game at Gersten Pavilion on Feb. 10, 2022. (Photo Courtesy of LMU Athletics.

by Nathan Farmer | @nlfarmer1

The WCC era of BYU basketball has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. The last 11 seasons have been marked by memorable wins over Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, while also being marred by inexplicable losses to the bottom teams of the league.

Regardless of their place in the standings, it always seems like teams outside of “SaintZaga” play their best games of the season against BYU, getting contributions from unexpected players. Over the course of 11 seasons, it seems like there’s been at least one “who the heck is that guy?” type of player on each team that’s gone off against the Cougars. As BYU wraps up its penultimate season in the West Coast Conference, let’s take a look at some of the most unexpected and unlikely performances to come against the Cougars in WCC play.

Portland: Bobby Sharp, 1/23/14
January 23, 2014, would be remembered a whole lot differently in Cougar basketball lore if it wasn’t for the career-high 27 points from Bobby Sharp in a triple-overtime thriller at the Chiles Center. Tyler Haws went off for a career-high 48 points, the most by a Cougar not named James T. Fredette, but it wasn’t enough as the Pilots overcame an eight-point second overtime deficit to win 114-110. Sharp went absolutely ballistic, draining eight treys off the bench in 35 minutes of action.

San Diego: Johnny Dee, 3/9/13
BYU lost to San Diego twice in the 2012-13 season, but the second loss to the Toreros in the WCC tournament put the nail in the coffin for the Cougars’ NCAA tournament hopes. Johnny Dee scored a game-high 25 points in the quarterfinals to send BYU packing to the NIT.

Loyola Marymount: Keli Leaupepe, 2/10/22
Any list of “random dudes going off against BYU” would be remiss without the luscious locks of Keli “El Pepe” Leaupepe. The Aussie has become a favorite around the ESPN 960 studios following his breakout performance against the Cougars a few weeks ago, in which he scored 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting from the field.

BYU overcame a 17-point second-half deficit to beat Keli’s club 83-82, snapping the Cougars’ four-game losing streak. Unfortunately, “El Pepe” was held out of the Lions’ return trip to the Marriott Center due to an injury, but we might see him take on the Cougars in the WCC tournament.

San Francisco: De’End Parker, 2/9/13
Another one of the games that contributed to the Cougars missing the NCAA tournament in 2012-13 was a 99-87 home loss to the USF Dons. The Cougars led by as many as 15 early in the second half but were outscored by the Dons by 27 over the final 18 minutes.

Spearheading that comeback was then-junior guard De’End Parker, a former City College of San Francisco standout that transferred to the Hilltop from UCLA to be closer to family. Parker scored a career-high 23 points off the bench on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and made all three of his three-pointers. Parker ended up transferring again after the season to Division II Cal State-San Marcos, the alma mater of Olympian Shaun White.

Pacific: Jahlil Tripp, 1/6/2018
Jahlil Tripp went on to have a solid career at Pacific, but his coming-out party of sorts came against the Cougars at the Spanos Center early in WCC play of 2018. The JUCO transfer had yet to make a name for himself, but BYU fans quickly learned who he was as the sophomore guard dropped 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting in front of a largely hostile crowd. (I was at this game, and the crowd was at least 75% BYU fans.)

The Cougars fell 67-66 after Zac Seljaas’ potential game-winning buzzer-beater was put up a split-second too late, and a younger Nathan Farmer drove back home disappointed.

Pepperdine: Malcolm Brooks, 12/30/2013
The last four-game losing streak for BYU prior to the 2021-22 season came during the 2013-14 campaign when the Cougars lost four straight to Utah, Oregon, LMU, and Pepperdine to close out non-conference and begin WCC play.
Dave Rose must’ve thought everything that could go wrong, was going wrong for his team as the Waves added insult to injury handing BYU its fourth-straight defeat.

Malcolm Brooks, a JUCO transfer who averaged 7.7 PPG that year in non-conference play, exploded for 24 points with six triples to down the Cougars. Brooks had only scored in double figures twice prior to his outburst against BYU, but something must’ve clicked because he went on to score in double figures in 14 of the Waves’ final 18 games.

Santa Clara: Jared Brownridge 1/26/2017
You’re probably thinking, “Jared Brownridge? That guy was pretty good. Why is he on the list of random dudes that went off against BYU?” Well, there are two reasons. The first being, Jared Brownridge is arguably the best player outside of BYU, Gonzaga, and Saint Mary’s to roll through the conference since the Cougars joined the WCC in 2011. Brownridge ranks 4th all-time in career points in WCC history, behind LMU’s Hank Gathers, Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster, and Tyler Haws, and has gone on to have a solid professional career in the G League and overseas.

The second reason I want to highlight Brownridge is because of the team that he went up against on Jan. 26, 2017. That 2016-17 team started guys like Nick Emery, Eric Mika, Yoeli Childs, and TJ Haws, in addition to future NBA champ Elijah Bryant coming off the bench. The 2016-17 team was a microcosm of BYU’s time in the WCC, beating undefeated No. 1 Gonzaga on the road, but losing to Pepperdine, Santa Clara, San Diego, UVU, Valparaiso and Saint Mary’s three times. Cougar fans probably wonder what could’ve been with this crew, but if these guys all stuck around for four years, we might have seen a much different team in 2019-20.

Anyways, back to Brownridge. The three-time All-WCC selection scored 25 points to lead the Broncos to their first-ever WCC victory over the Cougars. Brownridge now plays in the G League for the Delaware Blue Coats.

So… Why does this seem to only happen to BYU?
There could be any number of reasons why these guys seem to always happen to have big games against BYU. The first could be the scheme (something BYU fans love to complain about… *cough cough perimeter weave cough cough drop eight*). One complaint about the Dave Rose era of BYU hoops was the inevitable goose egg the Cougars would lay against the bottom teams in the league, ruining their chances of an NCAA tournament berth. Was this because the players were unmotivated to play in these rinky-dink WCC gyms? Was it a lack of preparation for these teams? Or was it just an anomaly?

I think there’s only one explanation, personally, and it makes sense the more you think about it. I’m convinced it’s some sort of karma from the Basketball Gods for giving us the aforementioned James T. Fredette, the ultimate “random dude going off,” and as a result, we BYU fans have to live with the flipside of that coin, another unassuming basketball player returning the favor.

At least in the Big 12, we’ll already know the names of the guys crushing Cougar fans’ dreams.

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