BYU basketball: Cougars elated to be dancing again in the NCAA Tournament
PROVO — After waiting nervously the past week to learn its postseason fate, BYU was relieved to receive an NCAA Tournament berth Sunday.
The Cougars will meet Iona of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in a first-round game in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday (7 p.m., MT, TruTV).
Both BYU (25-8) and Iona (25-7) are No. 14 seeds. The Cougars, one of 37 teams to be awarded an at-large bid, were one of the last four teams to get into the tournament.
Despite the quick turnaround and the unfavorable seed, BYU is thrilled to go to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season.
"I'm just really glad and grateful that we get another shot at the tournament," said senior Noah Hartsock. "It's really hard to sit out a week and not know what's happening, watch other teams play, and all of this bubble talk and everything. I'm just glad we got another chance to play in the NCAA Tournament."
The winner of Tuesday night's game meets No. 3 seed Marquette in Louisville on Thursday in the West Region.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron will be in attendance at Tuesday's contest. "The President of the United States is going to be there watching," Hartsock said. "So I think we're all going to be a little amped up to play that game."
BYU was bounced from the West Coast Conference Tournament more than a week ago when the Cougars fell by 19 points to Gonzaga in the semifinals. That left BYU squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
"It's been kind of nerve-wracking," Hartsock said.
"This is pretty stressful. It was a long wait. A long time since our last game," said coach Dave Rose. "But it turned out great. We're really excited to be in the tournament, excited to keep playing. I'm really happy for our players."
Rose and his players spent the week practicing and keeping an eye on what bracketologists and journalists were saying about the Cougars' NCAA Tournament hopes.
"What everybody says and what everybody believes and what they all want to figure out mathematically isn't how you get in this tournament," Rose said. "You get in this tournament with that selection committee actually voting you in. It's a really good feeling when you know the committee thinks you're one of the best teams in the country."
The Cougars gathered at the BYU Broadcasting facility Sunday afternoon to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show together. It took a while for BYU players and coaches to hear their name called.
"A sigh of relief that we got in," forward Brandon Davies said of his team's reaction to the NCAA Tournament invitation. "It kind of came down to the wire. It was our last opportunity to get in and they finally called our name. It relieved some of the pressure. We didn't care who we were playing, we just wanted to be in there … I didn't know what to expect. I was just hoping to get another opportunity. We're fortunate enough to get one."
"We're really excited. Usually, you watch to find out who you're playing. This year, it was a little different. We were watching to see if we got in," said senior Charles Abouo. "It's tough. But I've seen a lot of good teams get snubbed in the past and some teams that probably shouldn't have gotten in in the past get in. You can't really pay attention to what they're saying. You just have to wait until Sunday. It was a long week, waiting to find out what happens. We just practiced hard, hoping we would get in."
The Cougars didn't complain about their No. 14 seed.
ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi had BYU in the tournament all week, but not as one of the last four in.
"I'm guessing the somewhat surprising slot for the BYU
Iona winner (No. 14, West) might have something to do with BYU's 'no Sunday play' rule," Lunardi wrote. "Either way it is the worst at-large seed I can ever recall."
The Cougars don't have much time to prepare for Tuesday's game.
"I kind of like the quick turnaround," Davies said. "We've had a week to kind of sit around and wait for this opportunity. Now we have it. We're excited and we can't wait to get out there."
The quick turnaround also meant plenty of work in a short amount of time.
"There won't be a lot of sleep (Sunday night)," Rose said. "We've got to gather a lot of film so we can watch ... But it's a great feeling, I can promise you that."
Playing a couple of days earlier than usual is something new for the Cougars, but Rose said the feeling of being part of the tournament is familiar.
"Everything feels exactly the same, except it's going to be sped up a little bit. Instead of playing a Thursday game, we'll be playing a Tuesday game. If we win, we get to keep playing and if don't win, we've got to come home. It's exactly the same."
Cougars on the air
No. 14 BYU (25-8) vs. No. 14 Iona (25-7)
7 p.m. MDT, Tuesday
at Dayton, Ohio
TV: TruTV, Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
How to get TRUTV: www.trutv.com/about/zipcode/index.html
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