It isn't the Final Four that most BYU fans wanted when the basketball season began, but it is quite the accomplishment, nevertheless.
The resurgent Cougars ripped through Southern Mississippi 79-62 on Wednesday night in an NIT quarterfinal in Hattieburg, Miss., and will now play in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The Cougars will have a rematch with Baylor, which advanced to the NIT Final Four with a home win over Providence. Iowa and Maryland will meet in the later semifinal Tuesday. Baylor drubbed the Cougars pretty good in Waco back on Dec. 21, the night after the Poinsettia Bowl, 79-64.
But this is obviously a different BYU team, one that is playing "loose and free," as Matt Carlino would say, and the Cougars showed Wednesday night on the road that when they play with confidence and fire, they can beat good teams. It was the first time this season that BYU won a game it was not favored to win.
I didn't make the trip to Hattiesburg. However, BYU basketball information director Kyle Chilton passed along some comments from Carlino and head coach Dave Rose after the historic win.
Here they are:
"We're playing to have fun and playing to win - 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're at."
"Our plan was to just attack - I think they get 15 steals a game so we knew we'd have to keep control of the ball. Guys just had to get to the right places on the court and we did that tonight."
"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. Great for these guys. 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."
"Our point guard play is so important. We spent some time going back to finding ourselves, finding how we play, and the guys are executing. Matt (Carlino) has been the difference for us in these last couple games - he pushes the team, goes on the attack and makes shot. Plus we're getting a lot of other guys involved making shots, that's been huge for us. Brock (Zylstra) being able to make his 3s, and Brandon (Davies) and Tyler (Haws) being so consistent is helping us play how we really want."
"Moving ahead, I like where we're at. Nate (Austin) has played some of his best basketball in these last couple games and those other guys I talked about makes me confident. I'm excited for next year but right now we're just focusing on our next game, and making this season last."
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