Milwaukee • Even before their name was called on Selection Sunday as a better-than-anyone-expected No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional, the BYU Cougars were hearing and reading about their bid unworthiness from national college basketball experts.
You don’t belong.
You shouldn’t be dancing.
You don’t pass the eye test.
You can’t compete without your best overall player, injured point guard Kyle Collinsworth.
Thursday afternoon in this city known for beer, bratwurst and the best cheeses on the planet, the Cougars (23-11) can shove that perceived disrespect right back in their many critics’ faces. They take on Pac-12 power Oregon (23-9) at the BMO Harris Bradley Center at 1:10 p.m. MDT In a Round of 64 game with a lot to prove in their seventh big dance appearance in coach Dave Rose’s nine-year tenure.
“These guys deserve to be here,” Rose said at Wednesday’s pre-tournament news conference. “If you had spent five months with our team, you’d have a whole different interpretation, or feeling, about our team.”
It is a team that has had to defend itself the past four days, and reinvent itself about four times this season, starting, ironically, when it last played Oregon. The seventh-seeded Ducks, who made it to the Sweet 16 last year, eked past BYU 100-96 in overtime back on Dec. 21 in Eugene.
It is the game in which Collinsworth took over the point-guard reins from Matt Carlino, and although the Cougars would lose their next two games, it greatly changed the way Rose’s offense operated the rest of the season. Now it is back to the drawing board, with Rose confirming Wednesday that Carlino will start at the point.
“Personally, I think Matt has had his best season since he’s been here,” Rose said. “We need Matt to play well and for our team to be successful, and that will probably step up a little more because he will probably get a few more minutes.”
The coach said reserve freshman guard Frank Bartley IV, who showed flashes of brilliance in the non-conference portion of the schedule before a charging call late in overtime of that loss to Oregon seemed to rob him of his confidence, will also see more minutes in Collinsworth’s absence.
“What you want is just for the guys to play their best,” Rose said. “And if these guys are playing their best basketball, then we will be able to compensate for the loss of Kyle.”
The losses to Oregon and of Collinsworth, motivate the Cougars more than anything someone with a microphone and a camera in front of them can say on national television, junior forward Nate Austin said.
“The facts are that our team won enough games to get in, and we got in,” Austin said. “Our strength of schedule was the difference. … Our motivation is in doing it for each other. We don’t need anything else. We trust each other, and we enjoy playing with and for each other.”
A big key, Rose said, will be for big men Austin, Eric Mika, Josh Sharp and Luke Worthington to stay out of foul trouble. Austin and Mika both fouled out in overtime in Eugene, and the Ducks took over down the stretch.
They will have to make up for the loss of Collinsworth’s eight rebounds a game.
“It is not encouraging to see people think you don’t belong, or are not going to win,” said Mika. “But it is not like we are searching out for people to prove wrong. We know we can win, so we are just going to go play our game, see what happens.”
BYU vs. Oregon
O At BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee
Tipoff • 1:10 p.m. MDT (approx.)
TV • truTV. Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 23-11, Oregon 23-9
Series history • Oregon leads 13-9
Last meeting • Oregon 100, BYU 96, OT (Dec. 21, 2013)
About the Ducks • This is their 12th NCAA Tournament appearance, and they are 10-14 in tournament games, including a run to the Sweet 16 last year. … Eight players on this team have tournament experience.
About the Cougars • This is their seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in coach Dave Rose’s nine-year tenure, and 28th overall. They are 15-30 in tournament games, dating back to their first appearance in 1950. … Junior G Matt Carlino will move into the starting point guard spot in the place of Kyle Collinsworth, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 75-64 loss to Gonzaga nine days ago.