BYU basketball: Cougars roll into NIT semifinals full of confidence
Provo • Bronson Kaufusi, BYU's latest two-sport star, swung by the football team's Pro Day workouts at the Indoor Practice Facility on Thursday morning to watch his former teammates do their thing about 16 hours after helping the BYU basketball team make it to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals for the first time since 1966.
A short time later, senior forward Brandon Davies, junior guard Raul Delgado and others joined Kaufusi and accepted congratulations all around for helping BYU upset Southern Miss 79-62 in the NIT quarterfinals. And the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Kaufusi took some good-natured ribbing, even suggestions that he next join the gymnastics team, after his scary, end-over-end fall against the Golden Eagles was caught by national television cameras.
The Cougar hoopsters can afford to lighten up a little bit, now that they have erased the bitter disappointment of losing three of their last four regular-season games with a lengthy NIT run.
"It feels good," said Kaufusi. "We are really clicking right now."
Next up for BYU (24-11) is a rematch with the Baylor Bears (21-14), who advanced to the NIT's Final Four with a 79-68 win over Providence on Wednesday night in front of 4,544 in Waco.
Baylor demolished BYU 79-64 back on Dec. 21 in Texas, going on a 21-2 run to end the first half after the Cougars had jumped out to a 29-19 lead. The Bears were 9 for 18 from 3-point range, exposing BYU's poor perimeter defense.
But this is a different BYU team than it was a month ago, let alone more than three months ago, point guard Matt Carlino said after scoring 15 points and posting nine assists against USM.
"We are playing to have fun, and playing to win," Carlino said. "Everything's good out there and flowing. It feels good. It's almost like we're playing with a second wind right now. I don't feel drained. Everyone's playing tough and making the most of where we are at."
The Cougars won the NIT championship the last time they advanced to the semifinals, in 1966, but they will be a decided underdog this time, despite having fewer losses (11), than any of the other participants, all from power conferences. Maryland (25-12) meets Iowa (24-12) in the other semifinal, with the championship game scheduled for Thursday. There is no consolation game this year for the semifinal losers.
"I don't know how long it's been since we've been back to play an NIT game in New York, but it sure is great for this team," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "Maybe we were a little disappointed with this season but we've hung in there and we're doing well in this tournament. I think these guys are really playing their best and have got a second wind that's pushing them forward."
BYU announced Thursday that tickets for the NIT semifinals are available for purchase through BYUtickets.com. The seats are behind the BYU team bench on the 8th Avenue side. Tickets are $50 and include both games on Tuesday. They are renewable for Thursday's game if BYU advances to it.
P At Madison Square Garden (New York)
BYU vs. Baylor • 5 p.m. MT
Maryland vs. Iowa • 7 p.m. MT
Both games televised on ESPN2