With less than 15 minutes to play in BYU's win over San Diego State on Saturday, no one on either team had scored more than the 15 points tallied by Cougar forward Noah Hartsock, BYU's fourth-leading scorer on the season. What made Hartsock's point total even more remarkable was the fact that his participation was in doubt right up until game time.
"Noah had an issue with his foot," said BYU coach Dave Rose, "and I really didn't know how this was going to turn out."
Hartsock suffered a mid-foot sprain leading up to the Colorado State game, then re-injured the foot during BYU's win last Wednesday. The day before the game in San Diego, Hartsock hurt the foot yet again, leaving a Marriott Center practice after only about five minutes.
"I go back in the training room, and he's got the ice on it," said Rose. "And he is close to being in tears, because he just felt like at that time, 'maybe I won't even play (at SDSU).'"
Teammate Charles Abouo, who had a spectacular game in San Diego, scoring 18 points and pulling down nine rebounds, was equally concerned. Asked if he had doubts that Hartsock would play against the Aztecs, Abouo said "I did, personally. His foot was hurting him and he wasn't walking well (after Friday's practice), so I was worried."
"But (on gameday) he had a smile on his face, and he said he was going to play," added Abouo. "It was good to see that."
Rose credited trainer Robert Ramos, who worked hard to enhance Hartsock's physical and mental well-being in the 24 hours before the game. Rose says Ramos kept Hartsock "really positive ... he said 'don't get real discouraged because there's a chance that you can still help this team,' and boy, he sure did."
His final line? Fifteen points, five rebounds, four blocks and three steals for the junior from Bartlesville, Okla.
"What we got out of (Noah) was as tough and as gutty an effort as we've probably had," said Rose after the game. "Going into the game reminded me a lot of going into the Creighton game with (an injured) Jackson Emery. I thought Jackson might play three or four minutes, then he would come over and say, 'Hey I can't go,' and that would be it. Well, Jackson played 30 minutes (at Creighton, scoring 13 points), and we got that same performance from Noah (who played 39 minutes at SDSU)."
There is no doubting the toughness of a player who in a two-week span of December suffered both an in-game concussion and loosened teeth, then an on-road holiday season automobile rollover, from which he and his wife fortunately escaped relatively unscathed. In his first game after the car accident, Hartsock scored 19 points at Buffalo, hitting a season-high three 3-point field goals in the process. Hartsock's 15-point outburst at Viejas Arena was his highest-scoring game since that Dec. 30 post-rollover contest, and interestingly featured him tying his personal record of three triples.
Jimmer Fredette began the week missing practice with a calf injury. Kyle Collinsworth missed two days of practice leading up to the SDSU game while struggling with the flu, while Emery has lower extremity maladies that require some rest. During the win in San Diego, Stephen Rogers (knee) and James Anderson (eye) both left the game injured. Just another day at the office for one of the best and certainly toughest teams in the country.
"We just wanted to play every possession like it was the winning possession, like it was the last possession of the game; where guys just sell out, and they leave everything out there," said Rose. "To do that for 40 minutes is difficult, but I think we were as good in that mindset as we have been all year. This was a big game, and these guys played like it."
From a hobbled Hartsock on down, Rose says "I just can't be any prouder of a group of guys."
Greg Wrubell is the radio play-by-play "Voice of the Cougars," and hosts BYU Football and Basketball Coaches' Shows on KSL Newsradio and KSL 5 Television. Wrubell's blog "Cougar Tracks" can be found at byu.ksl.com. "Behind the Mic" is published every Tuesday during the BYU football and basketball seasons. E-mail: email@example.com