MILWAUKEE — The BYU-Oregon matchup in the NCAA tournament Thursday afternoon will feature a bit of a rivalry flavor.
Cougar guard Anson Winder and Duck guard Johnathan Loyd both hail from Las Vegas and are good friends.
“I’ve grown up with him. We went to high school together. We played on the same AAU teams since we were in the fifth or sixth grade,” Winder said. “This is a competitive rivalry. It’s like playing family. It will be exciting.”
Earlier this season, when Oregon defeated BYU in overtime in Eugene, Ore., Winder played just one minute. Loyd played 38 minutes, going 0 of 5 from the field and finishing with four points and six assists.
For much of the season, Winder played sparingly. But the junior became a starter on Feb. 20, and he's averaging 15 points per game since.
“It’s a blessing to come in and help the team and contribute the best way I can,” Winder said. “I just tried to stay positive throughout the year. I’ve just tried to focus on winning games and helping the team the best that I can, whether it’s coming in for two minutes or 30 minutes. To come into a tournament like this and play on this stage is surreal.”
Loyd is the younger brother of former BYU guard Michael Loyd Jr., who scored 26 points off the bench in the Cougars' NCAA tournament victory over Florida in 2010.
Throughout the season, Winder said he and Loyd have kept in touch.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, individually and team-wise. We’ve talked a lot to each other about keeping our spirits high and staying focused on the task at hand, which is winning games. It’s an exciting feeling to know that you’re going to play against a guy you’ve grown up with and made memories with in high school and middle school, and try to make history now.”
TOURNAMENT-TESTED: BYU guard Tyler Haws said he and his teammates like the fact they have a lot of tournament experience.
The Cougars advanced to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals last season.
“I think the guys on our team, we’re tournament-tested. We went to the NIT last year and figured out how to win a few games there,” Haws said. “You grow up playing in big tournament games, whether it’s the state tournament or AAU tournaments. It’s a fun time. Our experience will help us.”
Oregon, meanwhile, is tournament-tested, too. The Ducks, a No. 12 seed, unexpectedly advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last year.
MAKING A RUN?: Haws was asked if the Cougars are capable of making a run in the NCAA tournament.
“For sure,” he said. “I think we’re playing our best basketball right now. The guys are playing well. We have to go into it with the right mindset, but we’ve played Oregon. We know their stuff. We can get this one.”