BYU basketball: Cougars play the waiting game when it comes to the NCAA Tournament
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — BYU has won 25 games, with 12 of those victories coming either on the road or on a neutral court, and boast a top 50 RPI.
But after last Saturday's 77-58 loss at the hands of Gonzaga in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament, the Cougars' NCAA Tournament fate is up in the air.
While BYU (25-8) sits squarely on the bubble, coach Dave Rose is adamant about what should happen on Selection Sunday in less than one week.
"This team deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament," he said after Saturday's defeat.
As a potential at-large candidate, BYU could be affected by the host of conference tournaments being played this week throughout the country, with upstarts stealing bids. Creighton narrowly won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Sunday, preventing Illinois State from earning a spot in the Big Dance, much to the relief of bubble teams everywhere.
The Cougars will also be at the mercy of the selection committee — of which WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich is a first-year member. However, there is a rule that prohibits commissioners from being in the room when teams from their respective leagues are discussed for at-large consideration.
Most observers believe Saint Mary's and Gonzaga are locks for the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs face top-seeded Saint Mary's Monday night for the WCC Tournament title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The only time the WCC has had three of its teams go to the NCAA Tournament was 2008.
As of Sunday, noted bracketologist Jerry Palm still had the Cougars in the tournament, as a No. 10 seed, playing No. 7 Vanderbilt, in Pittsburgh.
BYU must wait to find out where it plays next.
"This team has overcome a lot and they've been resilient in times of challenges, but we've been consistent and we want to keep playing and hopefully we can," Rose said.
Senior Charles Abouo said he and his teammates will watch film this week and find ways that they can improve.
What could hurt the Cougars is how they've performed in their last 10 games. BYU is 7-3 during that span, with a loss to Saint Mary's and two setbacks to Gonzaga.
If the Cougars fail to be invited to the Field of 68, they most likely will go to the National Invitation Tournament, which Gonzaga fans reminded BYU fans during the waning moments of last Saturday's game at the Orleans Arena. Bulldog fans taunted the Cougars with chants of "N-I-T! N-I-T!"
But Gonzaga coach Mark Few acknowledged that BYU should be included in the Big Dance.
"We beat a very good basketball team," he said. "An NCAA Tournament team."
But BYU came out flat against the 'Zags and couldn't recover. Freshman guard Kevin Pangos scored 30 points, and hit five 3-pointers, against the Cougars. As a team, Gonzaga shot 54 percent.
"For us to shoot 54 percent and hold them to a low percentage was great," Few said. "(The Cougars) are one of the best offensive teams we have faced in a while. We outrebounded a good rebounding team. We executed and played a complete game. This was one of our best games of the year. I'm grateful for the plan my guys came out with and played hard."
HARTSOCK OFF THE BENCH: BYU has dealt with a slew of injuries this season, including the one sustained by leading scorer Noah Hartsock. Hartsock came off the bench to lead the Cougars past San Diego in the WCC quarterfinals. On Saturday, Brock Zylstra started in place of Hartsock again, but Hartsock came of the bench with 17 minutes left in the first half on Saturday after BYU fell behind 6-2. He finished with 12 points.
Hartsock didn't start against Gonzaga because, Rose said, "We practiced all week with a game plan of how we were going to come down here and play. (Hartsock) surprised us a little bit by the minutes he played (against San Diego). And he didn't go through shootaround (Saturday) because his knee was really sore."
ENERGIZED ATMOSPHERE: There was a sellout crowd of 7,828 that watched the BYU-Gonzaga game Saturday.
"This was the best atmosphere we've had here in two years," said Gonzaga forward Elias Harris. "BYU has great fans, we have great fans. It was awesome."
LOGO REMOVED: The WCC announced Sunday it is removing the midcourt logo that caused slipping issues in the BYU-Gonzaga game.
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