Las Vegas • The BYU men's basketball team turned its thoughts to the National Invitational Tournament on Saturday, the day after suffering a troubling conference tournament loss to a team with a losing record that it was favored to beat by 12 points.
The Cougars (21-11) did so knowing that their string of six straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament will be snapped in a week when Selection Sunday will come and go with no invitation to the Big Dance arriving in Provo.
BYU last played in the NIT seven years ago, when it lost 77-67 to Houston. The tournament for also-rans is a distinct possibility for the Cougars. The big question is whether BYU's late-season swoon cost it a home game.
The Cougars have lost three of their last four games and five of their last eight. The NIT's first-round games are scheduled to be played March 19 or 20, and bids are handed out a few hours after NCAA tourney bids.
Another major question facing the Cougars this weekend after their 72-69 loss to San Diego (16-17) on Friday night in a West Coast Conference quarterfinal game at Orleans Arena: Why do they struggle so much in conference tournaments?
They now are just 9-8 in conference tournaments in coach Dave Rose's eight-year tenure, although Friday's loss marked the first time in the Rose era they have dropped their first game in a tournament.
The last time that happened was in 2006, when they fell 74-70 to Utah in a Mountain West Conference first-round game in Denver. The Cougars have not won a conference tournament since 2001.
"We competed really hard but played maybe not as well as we are capable of playing," Rose acknowledged after losing for the second straight time to USD, which lost five straight games after defeating BYU 74-68 on Feb. 7 in San Diego. "We just couldn't sustain the lead a couple of times. We had a possession or two where we could have increased the lead, but they always seemed to have an answer."
And the Cougars had no answer for USD sophomore Johnny Dee, who had 25 points on 7-for-17 shooting. His 3-point play with 2 minutes, 21 seconds remaining was the play of the game.
"Give San Diego credit," Rose said. "They were extremely aggressive defensively, challenging passes, challenging balls in the post and when the opportunity came offensively, they just made the plays they needed to make."
And the Cougars didn't, again.
San Diego guard Chris Anderson, who added 16 points and got to the rim pretty much any time he wanted against BYU's defense, said the Toreros were confident they could upset the Cougars.
The win in San Diego "gave us a lot of confidence that we could beat them," he said. "After we won at home, we knew we were capable of it. We just had to stick to our plan and execute, and we knew it would work out for us."
Conference tournaments under Dave Rose
2006 • 0-1
2007 • 2-1
2008 • 2-1
2009 • 1-1
2010 • 1-1
2011 • 2-1
2012 • 1-1
2013 • 0-1
Overall • 9-8