Las Vegas • BYU’s Dave Rose has done one of his better coaching jobs this season, making all the right moves after the Cougars started the season 8-7 and lost four straight games in December.
After Rose shuffled his starting lineup a couple times and changed his starting point guard midstream, the Cougars (21-10) won 13 of their last 16 West Coast Conference games to get back into the NCAA Tournament picture for an at-large berth.
Rose is arguably one of the most underrated coaches in the country, and his .752 winning percentage, in the top 10 among active coaches, shows that. If Rose’s nine-year resume at BYU lacks anything, though, it is a conference tournament title.
The Cougars are just 9-8 in conference tournament games under Rose, just 1-2 in the WCC.
Their next chance to win their first conference tournament title since 2001 starts Saturday in a WCC quarterfinal against Loyola Marymount at the Orleans Arena, after the 10th-seeded Lions surprised Portland on Thursday.
Neither Rose nor his three captains — Tyler Haws, Matt Carlino and Kyle Collinsworth — could explain the tournament futility streak, other than to say conference tournament games are “really different” than regular-season games and there are no guarantees.
“Every tournament game is a challenge,” Haws said earlier this week. “Any team can beat anyone in a tournament-style setting. So, I don’t know why, but crazy things happen in March. I feel … we have been through a lot of tournaments and we are ready for this one.”
Carlino surmised that the Cougars have “faced teams that were hungrier than us.”
Last year, third-seeded BYU lost to sixth-seeded San Diego 72-69 in the quarterfinals. Collinsworth didn’t play, but he remembers the Cougars playing well in the 2011 Mountain West tournament a few blocks away at the Thomas & Mack Center before running out of gas without suspended big man Brandon Davies in the championship game and losing 72-54 to San Diego State.
“At this point of the year, any team can win a game,” Collinsworth said. “It is just that time of year when teams get that magic in March, so we have to bring it. … You can be beaten by any team, it really doesn’t matter who they are.”
Not knowing whether they would face Portland or LMU until Thursday night, the Cougars worked on a plan for LMU on Wednesday and Portland on Thursday.
Assistant coaches Mark Pope and Terry Nashif scouted Thursday night’s game, while the players and the other coaches arrived in Las Vegas on Friday. Coincidentally, it was after an 87-76 loss at LMU on Dec. 28 in both teams’ WCC opener that BYU’s resurgence began, although it lost two days later at Pepperdine.
The Cougars got revenge two weeks later with a 91-68 win over the Lions in Provo, with Skyler Halford starting in the place of Carlino. Now, Anson Winder is starting at the shooting guard spot and will likely get the assignment of guarding LMU’s talented point guard, Anthony Ireland.
“Hopefully we can win the first game and then get to Monday and see what happens,” Rose said. “But there are no guarantees. You … need a lot of guys to play well for a long time, for three straight [games]. … So hopefully the whole roster is up to the task.”
BYU at the WCC Tournament
March 2, 2012 BYU 73, San Diego 68
March 3, 2012 Gonzaga 77, BYU 58
March 8, 2013 San Diego 72, BYU 69
BYU vs. Loyola Marymount
P At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Tipoff • 3 p.m. MST
TV • BYUtv Radio • 1160 AM/102.7 FM
Records • BYU 21-10; LMU 13-18
Series history • BYU leads, 5-4
Last meeting • BYU 91, LMU 68 (Jan. 11, 2014)
About the Lions • At 4-14, they finished in last place in the conference for the second straight year, but knocked off Portland 67-64 on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals. … Anthony Ireland and Nick Stover scored 14 points each.
About the Cougars • They have played one game, a 78-70 win over San Diego, in the past 13 days. … They are 1-2 in WCC tourney games and lost to San Diego in the quarterfinals last year. … WCC Player of the Year Tyler Haws is averaging 23.4 points per game, sixth best in the country.