With a rather inglorious record of 1-2 in past West Coast Conference tournament games, the Cougars get back at it at 3:30 p.m. (approx.) MST this afternoon, taking on Loyola Marymount in a quarterfinal game.
BYU’s average record in conference tournaments under coach Dave Rose (9-8 overall, without a conference tournament title) is the topic of my advance of today’s game in today’s newspaper.
The Cougars are 12-point favorites here at the Las Vegas sportsbooks, although the teams split a pair of games in the regular season.
BYU should win this game — LMU finished dead last in the WCC regular-season standings, after all — but the Lions showed last year with pretty much the same team that they are extra dangerous in the tournament. They reeled off three straight wins last year before getting crushed by Gonzaga in the semifinals.
If LMU has an advantage today, it is that it played on Thursday (beating Portland) and is more familiar with the Orleans Arena and its different background. It just isn’t like a traditional college basketball arena.
Thursday, when the Cougars held their weekly news conference, I asked several players if they like the arena, and whether it is a "shooter’s gym."
"I love the Orleans gym," said guard Tyler Haws. "I think it is a great shooter’s gym. Teams shoot well in that gym. We haven’t had as much success as we would like there, but I think we are ready this year."
Haws scored 20 points in the loss at the Orleans last year to San Diego, but clearly wasn’t himself. He acknowledged earlier this season that he played through a "head injury" in that game, but didn’t disclose the exact nature of the injury.
Point guard Kyle Collinsworth was in Russia last year, and the year before that when the Cougars went 1-1 in the conference tournament in their first year in the WCC. So, he’s never played here, but he remembers watching the Cougars play here before he enrolled at BYU. Thursday, he didn’t sound too concerned.
"We are going to have a shootaround Saturday morning, so we will be used to it. I don’t remember much about it. I just remember the backdrop is kinda weird. There are like seats behind the hoop. But it is a gym, the hoops are 10 feet. Everything is the same," he said.
Here are a few more comments from Haws about the tourney and the Cougars’ readiness level:
"I think we are in a great frame of mind. We have had a few tough challenges this year that have made us get into the right mindset. I feel like this team is tournament-tested. We know what to expect. We know the challenges. Now it is about going out and executing and doing what we know."
Haws on what season has been like with all the ups and downs:
"At times in the year it has felt like a roller-coaster ride. But we have learned a lot. I mean, I feel like our team has learned how to respond to losses and wins. There have been times where we have won a few big games, and then we lose four straight.
But our guys have stayed together. We feel like we have a lot of basketball left to play in us. We are hungry, and we know what to expect going into Saturday."
Haws on whether it has been tough to play just once in 13 days:
"I don’t think so. We are ready to start playing games. I think our guys are ready for that."
Haws on what you do when you have to play back to back or three games in four days:
"You sleep a lot, you drink a lot of water and make sure you eat right. But really, growing up, you are used to playing a lot of games. I remember a few tournaments where we played three or four games in one day. So really two games shouldn’t be too bad if you are taking care of yourself."
Haws on coach Dave Rose’s big lineup changes and how they’ve turned out:
"Yeah, there have been a few different lineup changes the last few games. I think that’s always kind of scary late in the season. But our guys have responded really well, and the guys on this team, all we care about is winning games. As long as we are winning games, everyone is happy if we can figure that out. So, I don’t think it has had too big of an effect on our players."
Haws on whether guys respect Rose for making changes:
"Yeah, I don’t think guys are afraid of that. I think we respect coach and his decisions and the way he game plans. We just try and execute what he wants."
Haws on his scoring being down a bit:
"I think it is just something that happened. I try to pride myself on making the right basketball play, whatever that is, whether it is scoring the ball or when two guys come to me, I am going to find someone else to make a play. Guys are hitting shots, and guys are playing well, so I think it just kind of happened."
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