There's no reward right away for what the Cougars accomplished Saturday as 20-point underdogs, even though it rivals anything a Utah college basketball team ever has done in the regular season. They'll have to overachieve again by beating Saint Mary's just to get a shot at the Zags in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournament, and little hope exists for an NCAA bid.
Yet when it comes to an endorsement of Rose and a jolt for his program, spoiling Gonzaga's perfect season by winning in Spokane for the third season in a row was certainly a welcomed development. That should get the Cougars through the summer — almost regardless of what happens in Las Vegas and in the NIT, although a potential meeting with Utah could create a lasting effect of its own.
BYU deserves full credit for beating the Bulldogs, rather than having anyone view this breakthrough as an indictment of past performances, including three losses to WCC teams not named Gonzaga or Saint Mary's. The Cougars showed more poise and toughness than a Gonzaga team that wanted to make history to conclude the regular season. The Spokesman-Review was ready to commemorate the achievement, having printed 6,000 copies of a "30-0" section.
Newspapers often make such celebration plans; in the digital age, though, the Spokesman-Review accidentally let the special-edition cover hit the web hours before tipoff. A jinx? The Cougars needed whatever help they could get, and Gonzaga cooperated with poor shooting.
BYU produced this upset without any seniors on the court and without any extraordinary shooting of its own. The Cougars trailed 18-2 at the start and were down by 12 points midway through the second half. They eventually succeeded in making the Zags agonize, and the home team faded in the end.
Eric Mika's go-ahead jump shot in a tie game was coolly delivered. Then came a phenomenal play from Corbin Kaufusi. After he screened for TJ Haws 20 feet from the basket, Kaufusi raced down the lane, grabbed the rebound of Haws' miss and made his second bucket of the game for a 75-71 lead with 19 seconds left.
Kaufusi has scored only 10 points all season. Four of them came at critical moments Saturday, including his rebound bucket when it was 18-2. In BYU's three wins in Spokane, Kaufusi has averaged 5.7 points and 5.3 rebounds to justify his scholarship, beyond anything else he does on the basketball court or the football field.
And beating the Bulldogs again is a validation of Rose's work, just when he needed it — even with three years left on his contract. As the Cougars' season has played out inconsistently, fans have been critical of Rose. Amid the dissatisfaction, I've remembered our interview in early January. He detailed how starting his career as Millard High School's coach shaped him in the mid-1980s, when he battled with rival Delta — "which is more pressure than anyone should have to go through."
He remembered shopping at Duane's Food Town in Fillmore, where the cashier, butcher and produce guy would make suggestions about the Eagles. He braced himself for the critics at the corner table of the Truck Stop Cafe, where he loved Ilene Cooper's cinnamon rolls. "Because it was so intense in a small town," Rose said, "I think it prepared me for all that."
So he has maintained a healthy perspective this season, and his team delivered a big response on Senior Night in Spokane. BYU subdued the Bulldogs and shooed the wolves away from Rose, for the moment.
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