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It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Last summer, when BYU basketball coach Dave Rose and his assistants — primarily Tim LaComb — were putting together their 2018-19 non-conference schedule, they tried to find the best opponents possible to improve the strength of their schedule and perhaps impress the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Problem is, those opponents haven’t been as good as the Cougars hoped they would be. Worse, BYU isn’t beating those opponents. As a result, BYU (8-6) will have to win the West Coast Conference tournament in March to avoid missing the Big Dance for the fourth-straight year.
“I think they are hanging in there,” Rose said in a conference call Wednesday when I asked him about the morale of his guys after they lost on consecutive Saturdays to former Mountain West rivals, UNLV and San Diego State. “This is a tough time that we are going through.”
To make matters worse, Rose said that four players — he didn’t specify which ones — returned from the short Christmas break with illnesses and weren’t able to practice Wednesday afternoon when the team reconvened in Provo.
That’s bad, because BYU travels to Starkville, Miss., on Saturday to take on No. 19 Mississippi State in its final non-conference game of the season. Tipoff is at 10 a.m. MST and the game will be televised by ESPNU.
“That kind of worries us more than anything right now, is which guys will be able to play in the game Saturday,” Rose said.
On to our stories from the past week
• Here’s my analysis of the recently completed 2018 BYU football season, after the Cougars walloped Western Michigan 49-18 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The program took a small step forward, but lost a chance to make a really big step with late losses to Boise State, Cal, Utah and Northern Illinois. Trib
• What’s wrong with the BYU basketball team — which knocked off Utah State, Utah and Portland State to seemingly right its season, then fell on consecutive Saturdays to former Mountain West rivals UNLV and San Diego State? Here’s more on that. Trib
• Tribune columnist Gordon Monson’s thoughts on Kalani Sitake’s future following the Cougars' bowl win. Trib
• Here’s my follow from BYU’s bowl victory and analysis of what the win will do for the Cougars moving forward. Trib
• BYU’s offense struggled to get going in the bowl game, but the defense was its usual stellar self. Trib
• Freshman quarterback Zach Wilson had a game for the ages, and the record books, in his first bowl appearance for the Cougars. Trib
• Monson’s take on how the Cougars recovered in the second half to avoid another disaster in Boise. Trib
• When I asked Kalani Sitake how he expected Zach Wilson to play in the bowl game, he was quite prophetic. Here’s my preview of the game, which focused on the freshman quarterbacks. Trib
• Some interesting comments from the BYU-San Diego State game in this piece by the Associated Press. Trib
• Deseret News columnist Dick Harmon says Sitake’s Christmas in 2018 was a lot better than his Christmas in 2017, for obvious reasons. Dnews
• Darnell Dickson of the Provo Daily Herald always does a nice job recapping the BYU sports week in his Monday columns. Herald
While BYU basketball struggles, most of the other nine teams in the West Coast Conference are playing well and pulling off some upsets in the non-conference portions of their schedules. Here’s Rose on how the league is doing overall:
“Yeah, it is great,” he said. “Obviously, there have been some big wins over Power 5 teams from San Diego and LMU and San Francisco and obviously Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. And Pacific has got themselves off to a pretty good start. The league is probably as balanced as it has ever been.
You take Gonzaga, and they are a top-five team. I don’t think anybody is in that category with them right now. But the other nine teams are all probably pretty close to each other. Hopefully we can get some of these teams to knock off the Zags and we can get a real conference race going.”
• Former BYU basketball great Mel Hutchins passed away last week near his home in Encinitas, Calif. Hutchins and running mate Roland Minson had their jersey numbers retired in 2014.
• BYU’s women’s basketball team had a nice preseason, winning eight games and losing just three. The Cougars open West Coast Conference play a week earlier than the men’s team does, and will play at Santa Clara (7-4) on Saturday afternoon. They play at San Francisco (4-7) on Monday afternoon.
• BYU’s men’s volleyball team begins its season soon and is expected to have another outstanding year. The defending MPSF champion Cougars are picked to finish second in the league this year behind UCLA. They return 14 players, including All-American hitter and 2018 AVCA and MPSF newcomer of the year Gabi Garcia Fernandez.