LOUISVILLE, Ky. — While disappointed that the season had come to an end following Thursday's 88-68 setback to No. 3 seed Marquette at the NCAA tournament, BYU coaches and players said they are proud of their 26-9 record.
"It was a great season," said forward Brandon Davies. "We can look at a lot of things that we accomplished."
"I think that the accomplishments of this team, as far as from the outside, maybe will not be appreciated as much as from the inside, as far as our coaching staff is concerned," said coach Dave Rose.
Uncertainty abounded as the Cougars entered the 2011-12 campaign. BYU had to deal with the departure of arguably the best backcourt in school history — Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery — as well as the departure of lead assistant Dave Rice, who took the head coaching job at UNLV. Mark Pope replaced Rice on the staff, and several newcomers with no college basketball experience also joined the squad.
Meanwhile, BYU entered its inaugural year in the West Coast Conference.
"With the challenge of changing leagues and dealing with a whole different mindset and emotional approach to every game, traveling on the road in conference to every venue that no one's ever played in, being able to go through a season without losing consecutive games," Rose said, "those are all really important to us and our coaching staff and getting back to the tournament and being able to win a game in the tournament, it's a special year."
"There were a lot of new challenges with going into a new conference and the players we lost last year," said guard Brock Zylstra. "We had a great season with more than 25 wins. We'll take that any year."
Now the Cougars will say goodbye to their seniors, Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo. Freshman Damarcus Harrison said this week that he's going on a mission.
But BYU is looking forward to what lies ahead.
"The future is bright for us," Zylstra said. "We have a lot of guys coming back, a lot of us have experience playing in games like this (in the NCAA tournament)."
Besides the return of Davies, Zylstra, Matt Carlino, Anson Winder, Nate Austin, Craig Cusick, Stephen Rogers and Josh Sharp, the Cougars will welcome back guard Tyler Haws, who returns home from a mission after starting 33 games as a freshman in 2009-10. Haws averaged 11.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and shot 50 percent from the field, and 37 percent from 3-point range.
"We're excited to see him," Zylstra said of Haws. "I think he comes back next month. We're excited to have him back and fit him into our rotations."
Also joining the Cougars will be guard Raul Delgado, a Springville High product who starred this season at Western Nebraska Community College. BYU will also have the services of 6-foot-10 freshman Ian Harward, who redshirted this season.
Davies said Thursday's loss will serve as a motivator during the offseason.
"We can definitely take a lot from this game and learn from it. I have a lot I need to work on. There are a lot of plays I wish I could take back. There are a lot of places where I could improve."
BYU's strength this season was in the front court as it relied heavily on Hartsock and Davies. Meanwhile, the Cougars broke in a few new guards this season, with mixed results.
Carlino joined the team in mid-December and debuted with an 18-point performance against nationally ranked Baylor. As the season progressed, he had a lot of ups and downs. Toward the end of the season, his scoring decreased while his turnovers increased.
"Matt had a tremendous year, and he's going to be disappointed in how he played (against Marquette)," Rose said. "But I think that as a true freshman, when you're in your 20th game, those are places where you've never been before as a player, and I think this experience has been extremely valuable to him."
Rose clearly has a lot of confidence in Carlino's potential.
"I think that he has got great talent, great ability. Hopefully, his desire and work ethic will continue as it has since he was young because he continues to improve," Rose said. "What we need to do is have him improve over the offseason, and we've got all the confidence in the world that he will, like all of our players. I think it's just desire to get better and to prepare yourself to help your teammates the next year, and I think our guys will do that."