MILWAUKEE — It was a somber BYU locker room inside the Bradley Center Thursday afternoon after the Cougars’ 87-68 NCAA tournament loss to Oregon.
But BYU players said the sting of that setback didn’t detract from what they accomplished during the recently completed 23-12 season, and it will serve as a stepping stone for next year.
The Cougars played in the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in eight seasons.
“I’m proud of my guys for fighting all year long. This is always the goal, you always want to get to the tournament,” said guard Anson Winder. “It’s been a great experience. I’m happy we got here (to the tournament). It’s a disappointing feeling, but it’s motivation to come back stronger next year. We’ve been through the pains of losing close games throughout the year. We’ve definitely grown from this experience.”
BYU, which didn’t have one senior on the roster this season, will have six seniors in 2014-15 — Tyler Haws, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year; Matt Carlino, Skyler Halford, Nate Austin, Josh Sharp and Winder.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back next year,” said Haws, who will enter his senior year only 656 points shy of the BYU career scoring record. “Hopefully, we’re not satisfied with losing in the first round. It hurts. Hopefully, we can remember this game and have it motivate us for next year.”
While the Cougars won’t have any players graduating, there will be one major personnel loss as freshman forward Eric Mika departs this spring for a mission to Rome. He averaged 12 points and 6.5 rebounds this season.
“It’s going to be weird not playing for that long,” said Mika, who is scheduled to return for the 2016-17 season. “But I know it will be good when I get back.”
“He’s been great for us all year,” Haws said of Mika. “For a freshman to come in and have the impact that he’s had has been really impressive. There’s definitely something to build on when he comes back. He’s going to have a lot of experience under his belt because of the role he’s played.”
Another freshman, guard Frank Bartley IV, showed flashes of his potential this season. He scored 10 points and had four rebounds against Oregon.
Meanwhile, the Cougars will add several new players next season — Wake Forest transfer Chase Fischer (a 6-foot-3 guard), UNLV transfer Jamal Aytes (a 6-6 forward), American Fork product Ryan Andrus (a 6-8 forward) and returning missionaries Isaac Neilson (a 6-10 center) and Jordan Chatman (a 6-4 guard).
BYU is hoping versatile guard Kyle Collinsworth — who missed the NCAA tournament after he underwent knee surgery earlier this week — will be back to full strength next fall.
Highlighting the Cougars’ non-conference schedule will be their first trip to the prestigious Maui Invitational in a decade. The other teams in the field are Arizona, Kansas State, Pitt, Missouri, San Diego State, Purdue and Chaminade.
Home games include matchups against Stanford, UMass and Utah.
Carlino, who spent much of the season coming off the bench before becoming a starter again in the NCAA tournament due to Collinsworth's injury, enjoyed the ride the 2013-14 season provided.
“I’m not really looking toward next year right now. It’s so hard to even think about that,” he said. “This group of guys, they’re amazing. It’s tough not to be able to play again with (Mika). All these guys are great. I wouldn’t wanted to have gone through this with anyone else. We’ve had a lot of good times and rough times. That says a lot about a team. I can’t look toward the future right now because it was a fun year. You hate to end like this, but it was a fun year.”
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