BYU basketball: Cougars thrilled to be playing in NIT semifinals

Published: Monday, April 1 2013 8:55 a.m. MDT

BYU basketball coach Dave Rose reacts to his team's play in the opening minutes of the first half of their NIT college quarterfinal basketball game in Hattiesburg, Miss., Wednesday, March 27, 2013. BYU won 79-62.

Associated Press

NEW YORK — As BYU basketball coach Dave Rose will tell you, it's all about perspective.

He and his Cougars arrived in the Big Apple Sunday for a National Invitation Tournament semifinal clash with Baylor on Tuesday (5 p.m., MDT, ESPN2) at legendary Madison Square Garden.

And they couldn't be more thrilled.

"This is really exciting," Rose said. "We've been to six straight NCAA tournaments before this year, and I don't remember being any more excited than we are right now. This is really good for our team and our program."

Rose admits that there was a time, not too long ago, when a bid to the NIT would have been viewed as a letdown.

But not now.

"I think that everyone wants to say, 'Well, it's not the NCAA tournament.' And that's the truth. Our goal is to get to the NCAA tournament every year," Rose said. "But there's also a big part of, in our program, how are you going to deal with disappointment? And how do you respond to that? That's probably what excites me the most. From where we were six months ago, maybe you're not that excited. From where we were two weeks ago, hey, we're in great shape."

In early March, BYU was unceremoniously bounced from the West Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals by San Diego. That loss essentially ended any hopes of a seventh consecutive NCAA tournament berth.

Instead of hanging their heads, though, the Cougars went back to work. As the calendar turns to April, BYU is still playing.

"I'm glad that we got the chance to play in the NIT," said forward Nate Austin. "If our season had ended (after the WCC tournament), most people would say it's a disappointment almost. But our team came together. We stayed tight-knit, playing for each other. The season's kind of turned around a little bit."

Turned around, indeed. The Cougars have reeled off three consecutive wins in the NIT against Washington, Mercer and Southern Miss.

Suddenly, BYU finds itself competing on a big stage at Madison Square Garden.

"We know this is a great opportunity," said guard Tyler Haws. "We're looking to seize that opportunity and win as many games as we can."

"It's unbelievable," said guard Matt Carlino. "It's going to be really fun and we're all excited."

In their three NIT victories, the Cougars have scored 90, 90 and 79 points, respectively. BYU has shot 28-for-73 — 38 percent from 3-point territory (compared to 33.5 percent during the regular season) and is outrebounding its opponents, 129-98.

The stinging loss to San Diego in Las Vegas served as a catalyst for a renewed effort.

"The most important thing when we came home was to make sure that these guys still had a real strong belief that their coaches thought that this was a good team," Rose said. "We were really positive with the guys. We addressed some real issues and the guys responded to that. But this is a real reflection of the character of these guys and the leaders of this team, the seniors — Brock (Zylstra), Craig (Cusick) and Brandon (Davies)."

The winner of the BYU-Baylor semifinal game Tuesday will meet the winner of Maryland-Iowa in the championship showdown Thursday.

Of course, this isn't the Cougars' first trip to New York this season. Back in mid-November, they participated in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where they lost to Florida State and Notre Dame.

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