NEW YORK — BYU has enjoyed a history of success in the National Invitation Tournament.
The Cougars captured the NIT championship at Madison Square Garden in 1951 and 1966, back when the NIT was a bigger deal than the NCAA tournament.
It seems fitting that BYU has returned to Madison Square Garden after a 47-year hiatus considering the school retired the jerseys of two legends from the 1951 title team — Roland Minson and Mel Hutchins — in February. Minson and Hutchins addressed the Cougars prior to the game.
BYU takes on Baylor Tuesday (5 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Cougar coach Dave Rose said that when he's tried to teach his players about past teams and former stars, it doesn't always register.
"I've talked to the guys a lot during different seasons about the past and history of BYU basketball, just to try to throw it out there," Rose said. "It doesn't seem to. The players know a little bit about Danny Ainge. You get past that, it gets pretty tough."
At least two members of the 1966 BYU squad have ties to this year's team.
Jim Jimas was Marty Haws' coach at Hillcrest High School. Marty Haws, a former Cougar, is the father of Tyler Haws, who is BYU's leading scorer. Another member of the ’66 squad, Neil Roberts, coached Rose at Dixie College.
'Z' FOR THREE: Senior guard Brock Zylstra is closing his career in sizzling style.
Zylstra hit 4-of-8 3-pointers against Mercer last Monday, then knocked down 5-of-9 against Southern Miss Wednesday. Against the Golden Eagles, Zylstra nailed five 3s in the first half, including four in a row.
"We'd been hoping for that," Rose said.
The coach explained that Zylstra drilled six 3-pointers in a row during a scrimmage in practice the day before Selection Sunday.
After witnessing that, members of the coaching staff said to each other, "If we can get Brock to shoot like that, it doesn't matter who we play or where we play. People will have a hard time beating us."
And that's come to fruition.
"In the first half of the biggest game so far, he hit five in a row," Rose said. "We've seen that a lot from Brock, and I'm glad everybody else got to see it, because no one works harder and puts more time in than he does."
BATTLING BAYLOR: When BYU traveled to Baylor last December, the Bears drained 9-of-18 3-pointers, compared to 2-of-12 for the Cougars. Baylor also outrebounded BYU, 42-40.
Cougar forward Brandon Davies recorded 17 rebounds, to go along with 26 points, while Bear forward Cory Jefferson has 16 rebounds and 13 points. Baylor center Isaiah Austin also posted a double-double with 10 rebounds and 14 points.
"Rebounding will be a really big issue. They were really dominant on the boards," Rose said. "Our transition defense is going to have to be a lot better. They had a spurt there where they just kind of blew the game wide open."
BYU is wary of Baylor's talented point guard, Pierre Jackson, and 3-point shooter, Brady Heslip.
"We had a hard time controlling Pierre in the full court. Heslip got loose and hit some 3s," Rose said. "Corey Jefferson's a great rebounder and Isaiah Austin's a guy that's really long. We'll have to be better in those areas."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company