BYU players, coaches seem genuinely excited to be in NIT
Having played just one game in the last 17 days, BYU's basketball team should be rested and ready to go tonight when it takes on Washington (18-15) in an NIT first-round game at the Marriott Center. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m., the game will be televised nationally by ESPN, and plenty of tickets are still available. While BYU is fresh, but perhaps a tad rusty, Washington has played three times since March 8, which is when the Cougars fell 72-69 to San Diego in Las Vegas. The Cougars went hard last week in practices, and again on Monday, coach Dave Rose said."Last week's practices, I was really impressed with our guys. You get in a spot where you don't really know for sure if you are going to get to play again. We had five really good days of practice where the guys competed hard, played hard. We had a good scrimmage on Saturday. I thought it went right down to the wire. The only negative thing about practice last week was that Josh Sharp injured his Achilles. So he is kind of day to day right now. Didn't practice today." Trainer Rob Ramos said Sharp suffered an Achilles strain. When I asked Rose about the likelihood of Sharp playing against Washington, he didn't sound positive. "Um, we will see. We just don't know right now," Rose said. Sharp watched practice Monday with a protective boot on his foot. If he can't go, it will obviously be a blow to BYU's chances, because the Cougars need all the rebounding help they can get. Sharp, not a prolific shooter, provides that.Tyler Haws also spoke to reporters after Monday's practice. He said he is "feeling great" after battling illness in the loss 11 days ago to San Diego. "A week off, with no games, really helps a lot. So my body feels good, and I am sure our whole team is feeling a lot healthier this week as well," he said. Haws acknowledged that he wasn't at full strength against the Toreros, although he did score 20 points in the WCC quarterfinal. "I felt a little bit out of it at the beginning. But I finally found my rhythm in the second half. But it wasn't enough. We didn't get it done. But I am feeling good and I will be ready to go tomorrow," he said. "We had a good week of practice, and a good week of preparation. Washington is a great team, and I am excited to play them." Because of its late-season slide, and lack of wins against the top teams on its schedule, BYU was seen as being on the NIT bubble before Sunday night. But that turned out to be a faulty assumption, with the Cougars getting a No. 3 seed and a home game. It is also a bit surprising to some that the Cougars are 6-point favorites tonight. "I am not surprised," Rose said of the seeding. "I think either way, you just realize that the committee will decide what they are going to do, and you have to react and respond to it. I think that where we sat in the pecking order, as far as the number of wins we had, our RPI, I just felt like anything was possible, and was really pleased when we got an invitation. "We found out right before the show, the NIT show, that we were going to be in the field, somehow," Rose continued. "That was a relief, yeah. That was nice." Rose said he and UW coach Lorenzo Romar have had several discussions about the Cougars and Huskies playing a series of games against each other, but nothing has ever materialized. BYU and Washington last met in 1997. "Actually, a couple times I thought we had the series put together. We talked about Seattle, and playing in Seattle at the arena downtown, and then playing at the ESA. That kind of fell apart. We talked about home and homes. We talked about playing a neutral site game, and then a home and home. But nothing ever worked out," Rose said. ".....I know we are going to play tomorrow. I know we are going to talk about it in the future, and this summer when we go through our scheduling model. But it is nice to know that these guys have played hard all year, and have a really good team, a really good program coming in here for a first-round game." Saint Mary's and other WCC teams have been criticized for not playing a difficult nonconference schedule, but Rose said he believes his schedule this year was just right. It's just that the Cougars didn't win the "big" games at Iowa State, Baylor, and in New York that would have put them in NCAA Tournament consideration."Scheduling is just difficult, in general," he said. "It takes a huge part of our time, in the offseason. I think every year you try to evaluate your schedule and see if you can get your guys the best opportunity that you can to reach all their goals. And this year I feel that way. I feel like we had the games on the schedule, and the opportunites for us to do that. So that's what you kind of look forward to, and that's what we will try to do with our model next year, too." Of course, tonight's game marks the return to Utah County of former Pleasant Grove star C.J. Wilcox, Washington's best player. Wilcox was the topic of this advance of tonight's game in today's Tribune. "We will look forward to playing against him. He is a very talented player, and has had a great career, and has really improved as a player. I watched a lot of film of him last night, saw a lot of games. I am really happy for him, and the success that he's had there at Washington," Rose said. I asked the coach if BYU ever had a shot at landing the 6-foot-5 junior guard. "I mean, we were involved early in the process," Rose said. "And they did commit early, but we would love to have had him. He's a terrific player." As mentioned in the article, Haws and Wilcox have played with and against each other since the sixth grade in rec leagues and AAU ball, in addition to high school ball. "Just how competitive he is, and that he wants to win. He's a shooter. You can't leave him open anywhere on the court. It will be fun to see him again and play against him again....We go all the way back to the sixth grade, playing against each other and with each other. So we have played a lot together, won a lot of games together. So, again, I have a lot of respect for him. I will probably end up on him a little bit. I am sure I will guard him. That will be a fun matchup," Haws said when asked for a scouting report on the UW star. Because No. 2 seed Tennessee cannot host a second-round game later in the week, the winner of tonight's game will play host to the Tennessee-Mercer winner. But Rose said he's not using that for motivation. "The most important thing is the preparation for this game, and to go out and play, compete, and try and get a win, and then deal with what happens next, " he said. "We didn't have any conversation about what happens after the game. [We said] let's just compete here and see if we can get a win, and then see where it goes. Obviously, from the reports, it looks like it could be a pretty good situation. But all our focus is on this game and playing more consistently than we did the last time out. I thought there were stretches the last time out where we played really well, we competed hard, but it was not consistent throughout the whole game. We will need to do that to win."