BYU basketball: Cougars welcome Washington, C.J. Wilcox for NIT game
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
NIT first round
No. 6 Washington (18-15) at No. 3 BYU (21-11)
7:30 p.m. MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
PROVO — It's something of a renewal and a reunion for the BYU basketball team.
As the No. 3 seed Cougars host No. 6 Washington Tuesday (7:30 p.m. MST, ESPN) in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, they're embracing the opportunity to extend their season.
"We look forward to the challenge," said coach Dave Rose. "I know our guys are really excited to be playing another game, to be in the NIT and to have a home game."
“We're disappointed we’re not in the big (NCAA) tournament, but you take what you can get and you just want to keep playing basketball as long as you can," said Cougar guard Tyler Haws. "This is a great tournament with lots of good teams, and we’re looking to get a few wins."
Senior forward Brandon Davies said it was "a relief" to earn an NIT bid.
"It means a lot, especially to us seniors," said Davies. "It's great for our fans. I'm sure our fans are excited. We're excited too, just to get another chance to play at the Marriott Center. We're just grateful to get the chance to play again. There's a lot of teams that are done and they don't get to play anymore. We're just looking forward to trying to seize the opportunity."
And Tuesday marks the return of Washington guard, and Pleasant Grove native, C.J. Wilcox to the Provo area. Wilcox, a 6-foot-6 junior who averages a team-high 16.7 points per game, is the son of former Cougar Craig Wilcox. Several BYU players have either played with or against C.J. Wilcox over the years.
One of those is Haws, the Cougars' leading scorer.
"We’ve had lots of great battles over the years," Haws said. "I have a lot of respect for C.J. and his family, so it will be fun. He wants to win. He’s a shooter. You can’t leave him open anywhere on the court. It will be fun to see him again and play against him again."
Haws said he hasn't seen Wilcox in about four years.
"I talked to him a little bit when I got home from my mission. So we kept in touch that way and I followed him this season. It will be a fun, fun rematch for sure."
Haws and Wilcox started playing basketball with and against each other starting in the sixth grade.
"We’ve played a lot together. Won a lot of games together," Haws said. "Again, I have a lot of respect for him. I’m sure I’ll guard him. That will be a fun matchup.”
"C.J. had a great high school career here in the county," said Rose, who recruited Wilcox. "All our guys who played here know him and obviously he and Tyler are really close. With his dad playing here, it will be a special opportunity for him. We're looking forward to playing him. He's a very talented player and he's had a great career. He's really improved as a player. I'm really happy for him and the success he's had at Washington. We would have loved to have had him. He's a terrific player."
Last week, while the Cougars were waiting to learn their postseason fate, they held five competitive practices, Rose said. The bad news for BYU is that forward Josh Sharp injured his Achilles and is day to day. Rose said he wasn't sure if Sharp would be available for Tuesday's game. Sharp did not practice Monday.
That could be problematic for the Cougars because the Huskies are a big team.
"The matchup's a little difficult. They're (a) really athletic and deep team, especially on their frontline," Rose said. "Size will be an issue in this game."
Washington's Aziz N'Diaye, a 7-foot center, averages 8.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest.
"They have a lot of big guys, a lot of experienced guys," said Davies. "It's going to take a big effort on our part to get a win."
The Cougars are coming off a disappointing 72-69 loss to San Diego in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference tournament March 8.
In that game, Haws scored 20 points, but played just 29 minutes due to a lingering illness. He said he's healthy now.
"I’m feeling great," Haws said. "A week off with no games really helps a lot. My body feels good and I’m sure our whole team is feeling a lot healthier this week."
If they can win Tuesday, the Cougars are guaranteed to host a second-round NIT game against either No. 2 Tennessee or No. 7 Mercer. Tennessee's arena is being used for women's NCAA tournament games and cannot host a potential second-round matchup.
But Rose said he and his team certainly aren't looking beyond Tuesday's game.
"The most important thing is the preparation for this game and to go out and play, compete and try to get a win, then deal with what happens next," Rose said. "We didn't have any conversation about what happens after the game. It looks like it could be a good situation, but all our focus in on this game, and playing more consistently than we did last time out. I thought there were stretches where we played really well and competed hard. But it was not consistent throughout the whole game. We'll need to do that (Tuesday) to win."
Davies said the Cougars are well-rested and eager for this NIT challenge.
"Now that we have something to fight for, you can just see it in our guys' eyes — that we're ready to play and we're all excited."
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