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BYU basketball: Cougars eye third NIT bid in five years after falling hard to Saint Mary’s

First Published      Last Updated Mar 07 2017 07:50 pm


BYU men’s basketball » The Cougars have made the WCC tournament title game twice in six years.

Las Vegas • The BYU basketball team finds itself preparing to spend Sunday night waiting for a likely bid in the National Invitation Tournament for the third time since 2013 and fourth time in coach Dave Rose's 12-year tenure.

A second straight NIT appearance is not what the Cougars had in mind when the season began, but losses to Utah Valley, San Diego and Pepperdine meant the program was headed in that direction long before Monday's embarrassing 81-50 loss to No. 19 Saint Mary's in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament.

The Cougars had to win the WCC tournament to make the Big Dance, and they knew it. But they didn't come close, falling short of the finals for the fourth time in their six years in the league.




"Hopefully we will be able to continue to play," Rose said at Orleans Arena after the most lopsided loss of his head coaching career. "We have to learn this whole process. You hope you can avoid it, but it is usually the way you grow. We have to figure out how to respond, and we are in a spot right now where I know the guys want to play again, and hopefully we will get that opportunity to do it somewhere."

BYU teased its fans with that improbable and unexpected 79-71 win at No. 1 Gonzaga on Feb. 25, but the Cougars crashed in spectacular fashion nine days later. The dramatic turnaround symbolized the most perplexing season in recent memory and also hammered home the Cougars' maddening penchant for panicking when they get behind.

It also showed that the Gaels still have BYU's number, and everything that entails.

"They're definitely tough when they're able to do what they are known for doing," BYU guard Elijah Bryant said.

Rose, Bryant and backup guard Davin Guinn acknowledged in the postgame news conference that Saint Mary's, with its deliberate yet efficient style, imposes its will on BYU like no team over the past decade.

"I think it is just two different styles of play, but honestly we are not satisfied with the outcomes of the past three games [against Saint Mary's]," Guinn said. "We need to do a better job of adjusting to how they play and still be able to do what we do at the same time."

The Cougars missed 10 of their first 11 shots, fell behind by 16 points in the first half and posted season lows in points, shooting percentage (31.7) and assists (five). They made 19 field goals and attempted 11 free throws, also season lows.

Rose hinted that his team that starts three sophomores and two freshmen and has no healthy seniors stopped playing hard in the second half when the Gaels shot an amazing 70.8 percent (17 of 24).

"I can't fault our effort because the guys played hard for awhile," Rose said. "They were really involved in trying to get it turned. We looked like we didn't practice yesterday, which we didn't. I just hope that our guys can understand the challenge. There are real challenges out there that you have to mentally prepare for.

"You have to get your mind and your body to do what has to be done to meet the challenges. I think we were just slow to respond to that."

Guinn, a former walk-on, played hard to the finish, sinking a couple 3-pointers and committing some hard fouls to stop the Gaels from pouring it on even more. Bryant competed to the buzzer, too, and took 10 of BYU's season-low 11 free throws.

"I think moving forward we just have to let it sting and be able to learn and grow from it," Bryant said. "Like coach said, we are a young team. But we have to allow this to sting. That way it can motivate us for our next game."

The Cougars attempted 39 free throws in Saturday's 89-81 win over Loyola Marymount. They got 36 free throws in three games against Saint Mary's. Saint Mary's was whistled for five fouls in the first half.

"You are asking the wrong guys," Rose said when asked about the oddity of both teams combining for 23 free throws after Saturday's foul-fest. "They should probably have a press conference for the officials. … Yeah, I think you are right. I agree."

There was a bit of good news for the Cougars on Tuesday. Sophomore forward Eric Mika was named the United States Basketball Writers Association District VIII Player of the Year. He averaged 20.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, but had 10 points and seven rebounds against Saint Mary's.

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AT A GLANCE

BYU’s WCC Tournament appearances

Year » Record » Last game

2012 » 1-1 » Lost 77-58 to Gonzaga in semifinals

2013 » 0-1 » Lost 72-69 to San Diego in quarterfinals

2014 » 2-1 » Lost 75-64 to Gonzaga in finals

2015 » 2-1 » Lost 91-75 to Gonzaga in finals

2016 » 1-1 » Lost 88-84 to Gonzaga in semifinals

2017 » 1-1 » Lost 81-50 to Saint Mary’s in semifinals


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