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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In the span of 12-plus hours, they staged an epic comeback, experienced a late night with little sleep, and endured a 150-mile bus ride.
Yes, the weary, bleary-eyed BYU Cougars, fresh off the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history, may be going on adrenaline and fumes at this point, but they're ready for the bright lights and big stage again when they meet No. 3 seed Marquette in a West Region showdown at the KFC Yum! Center on Thursday (12:45 p.m. MT, CBS).
"The turnaround is quick, but it's exciting for our players," said coach Dave Rose. "It's what you want to be doing at this time of year. You want to be preparing for the next team, advancing in the tournament."
No. 14-seed BYU accomplished something no other team had ever done in the tournament — rallying from a 25-point deficit with a heart-pounding 78-72 victory over Iona Tuesday night in Dayton — to advance from the First Four to the Field of 64.
Who needs Jimmermania? Even without superstar Jimmer Fredette, the comeback Cougars have been the talk of the nation. That instant-classic performance provides them with momentum, and confidence, as they face the favored Golden Eagles of the Big East Conference.
"A lot of confidence comes from coming from behind and winning, especially in the NCAA Tournament," said guard Brock Zylstra. "There's a lot of new emotions and adrenaline that comes into play when you're playing in this tournament."
"With the way we ended the game against Iona, a lot of players got a lot of confidence," said forward Noah Hartsock, who scored 23 points against Iona. "It was the first tournament game for a lot of them. They know what to expect."
While BYU overcame long odds in coming back from 25 down against Iona, it already faces long odds again today against Marquette. In NCAA Tournament history, the No. 3 seed boasts an overwhelming 92-16 record (.852 winning percentage) against the No. 14 seed.
For the Cougars, their role is reversed from a year ago, when they were a No. 3 seed playing a No. 14 seed, Wofford.
"Coming in as a No. 3 seed, you're kind of expected to win, and you have that pressure on you," said Hartsock. "Marquette is a really good team and they deserve that seed. But as a No. 14 seed, you get to play more loose. You just try to impose your will and play the best you can."
Hartsock said his team has embraced the underdog role.
"It gives us motivation to play, to have fun and enjoy it," he said. "We're excited for another opportunity to play in the tournament. That win gives us a little extra confidence."
Marquette coach Buzz Williams was impressed with BYU's dramatic win on Tuesday. "I've never seen anything like it in all my life," he said. "I was a basket case watching that game."
"I thought it was a great way to start the tournament," said Golden Eagle senior forward Jae Crowder, who averages 17.4 points per game and was named the Big East player of the year. "Of course, it was a great win. You saw both teams hit their ceiling. I think Iona hit their ceiling a little earlier than BYU did. BYU had to fight back."
While Iona employed a frenetic pace, at least in the first half of Tuesday's game, Marquette is much more deliberate — and physical.
"They're a real physical team," Zylstra said. "Just a Big East team that you would think of when you think of the Big East Conference."
The Cougars will need to slow down the Golden Eagles' one-two punch of Crowder — whose father, Corey, played for the Utah Jazz — and senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who averages 18.5 points per game.
"They're a very talented team. A lot of great players," said BYU forward Brandon Davies. "They have a lot of firepower. It's going to take our best effort to come out and play our best game to get a win."
Rose knows his team will need to turn in a stellar defensive effort against Marquette.
"We're going to have to make Marquette shoot contested shots. It's a team that loves to drive the ball, loves to get to the rim," Rose said. "They're really patient offensively. It's a real interesting style because they'll push the ball really hard in transition and try to take a quick shot. If they don't do that, then they're going to get the ball out, and they're going to work it and try to drive that thing and get a shot at the rim. Hopefully we'll be able to contain their dribble penetration and keep the ball away from the rim."
If the Cougars are going to spring a big upset today, they'll need to come out strong from the opening tipoff, unlike their abysmal start against Iona.
Zylstra said because his team has already played a game in the tournament, it could have an advantage today "because we know the feelings that come from playing in a situation like this, an atmosphere like this. So we take it as an advantage for us as we have already got our legs under us. We're happy that we're able to play and come into this next game already having a game under our belt."
NOTES: The Cougars woke up early Wednesday, ate breakfast in Dayton, then rode a bus to Louisville, arriving at about 2:30 ET. BYU held its media interviews and practice at the KFC Yum! Center later in the afternoon … The Cougars have won four of their last six NCAA Tournament games … The other tournament games being playing in Louisville on Thursday are Colorado State vs. Murray State; Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky; and Iowa State vs. Connecticut.
COUGARS ON THE AIR
No. 14 BYU (26-8)
vs. No. 3 Marquette (25-7)
Thursday, March 15th, 12:45 p.m.
KFC Yum! Center
TV: CBS Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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