Having defeated Mercer 90-71 on Monday night at the Marriott Center in front of a decent-sized crowd of 12,929 in the second round of the NIT, the Cougars quickly turned their thoughts to who they will play next in what many people refer to as the National Inconsequential Tournament.
Clearly, though, this tournament means a lot to the Cougars. And it meant a lot to Mercer coach Bob Hoffman, who was one of the most animated coaches to ever pace the MC sidelines on Monday night, but cooled down in time for the postgame news conference. He was nothing but a gentleman there, and had high praise for the Cougars and the MC crowd, in his postgame remarks. The NIT obviously means a lot to Southern Miss, too. A local banker bought 1,000 tickets for USM students to use in Wednesday night's game (6 p.m. MDT, ESPNU) and press reports seem to indicate that the Golden Eagles will easily surpass the crowd of 5,922 that watched them beat La. Tech on Monday. The Cougars are fully invested in this thing, too, to borrow a phrase from their football coach. That was obvious in the way they played against Washington, and even moreso on Monday against Mercer. "I thought tonight that we were really good. I thought from start to finish we played with a lot of heart, emotion, a lot of passion. Those are all things that we are excited as a staff to see in our guys," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "I think that the slogan that we are rolling on is simple: 'go get another game.' And we got another game. So we are excited to move forward, move on." Here's my advance of Wednesday night's game, and what kind of challenges that Southern Miss presents for the Cougars, on and off the court. Now that all eight NIT third-round games have been played, here's a quick look at the attendance figures for each:
Saint John's at Virginia: 8,457.
Stony Brook at Iowa: 15,400
Denver at Maryland: 3,982
Stanford at Alabama: 6,148
Arizona State at Baylor: 4,562
La. Tech at Southern Miss: 5,922
Robert Morris at Providence: 7,149
Mercer at BYU: 12,929
It won't happen, obviously, but it would have been interesting to see how many fans the Cougars would have gotten for a quarterfinal game on Wednesday, with a trip to the Big Apple at stake. More than 15,000 would be my guess. Alas, we will never know.
As fans in attendance and fans who watched the game on ESPNews are well aware, big Bill Walton was the television analyst. Rose was asked in the postgame news conference about Walton being in attendance. "We had a conversation before the game, and we talked about quite a few things," Rose said. "I don't very often watch our game film with the sound up, but I think I probably will tonight." The thought ran through my head that maybe Rose and Walton talked about the now-vacant UCLA job, now that the Bruins have fired 10-year coach Ben Howland. Rose's name hasn't popped up much in the list of candidates' names that are being thrown out there by the Los Angeles and national media, at least from what I've read, but UCLA could do worse than a coach who is 208-65 in eight seasons in Provo. Much worse. I posted video last night of the portion of the postgame news conference that featured the players, Matt Carlino and Brandon Davies. Here are most of Rose's comments, which I didn't get on video: On the surge of emotion recently on the sidelines (Rose made a point of high-fiving/congratulating every player on the bench as the clock wound down), and why: "We have been in a lot of practice sessions the last two weeks. And our guys have worked really hard, and have wanted this to happen. And I think that the disappoinment of the conference tournament was real to our players. I think they really feel excited about this opportunity to continue to play, and not finish on the note that we had there. And it is good to see our guys playing with a lot of togetherness. I think that our practice sessions are really paying off. Our guys are really playing well." On the Cougars scoring 90 points for second straight game and what is clicking offensively: "I think that when we find that third scorer we have been pretty good all year long. Tonight we got four. Brandon and Ty have been pretty consistent down the stretch for us. It has just been consistency with our group, and I think that the last two games, anyways, guys have really stepped up." On whether they mentioned that Mercer beat FGCU in the Atlantic Sun Conference race to the players:"Well, we talked about it. Because I think it is real. You take that team, and you see how well they are playing, and they have become kind of the nation's favorite team, the underdog. Then you realize that this team, over an 18-game conference schedule, finished ahead of them. It has got to, somewhere in the front of your mind, the back of your mind, make you realize that as good as that team has played the last couple of nights out, that this team won the league. And so they have to be pretty good. And they are good. I mean, this is a team that caused us a lot of problems a lot of times. We played really well, and gave them a couple runs, and they were right back at us again, and then right back at us again. That's the sign of a championship team. They won the Atlantic Sun championship, and you can tell why. They don't give up. They don't back down. They are good at the rim, they are good from the perimeter. They are a good defensive team. So I am proud of our guys." On the 3-point shooting of Brock Zylstra and Matt Carlino in the first half, especially: "When you start the game that way, and you get the lead, it allows us to be a little more aggressive defensively, as far as what we do. It is difficult for our team to stay in the zone when we are behind. And so to have that lead, and be able to switch back from man to zone, against a team that is so precise in the way they execute, I think that was an advantage for us. A lot of times when we were in a zone set, and they had a man call, it was to our advantage. That early lead allowed us to be way more aggressive in the way we switched back and forth."On whether he saw this surge from Matt Carlino coming: "Matt has played really well at times during the season. The issue has been consistency, and the last two games he has been great. And hopefully it continues."