It's probably safe to say BYU has gotten over its WAC Tournament jinx now.
Whether they win tonight's title game against Utah or not, the fact is they have earned the opportunity to win it for the first time in the history of this postseason event.And they did it in improbable fashion, with a last-second "flinger" shot in overtime to beat Hawaii, 73-71, Friday night in Arena-Auditorium.
"We had them (BYU) down, we had them out a couple of times, we were running it at them and they looked tired," said Hawaii Coach Riley Wallace. "You have to give them credit; they hit some big-time shots."
The first big-time shot was guard Mark Heslop's three-pointer with 21 seconds left in regulation and the Cougs down by three.
"It was a set play," Heslop explained. "I got great picks from Shawn (Bradley) and Gary (Trost), I faked underneath and then swung back out. I decided no matter what, I was going to launch it. I figured it was about my turn to make it."
That last comment referred to two other opportunities Heslop had to make last-second shots, against East Tennessee State and Wyoming, shots that missed.
The next big-time shot came with 54 seconds left in overtime, another three by Heslop. With BYU trailing 69-68, Call drove the right side and tossed it to Heslop in the right corner. Heslop's shot put BYU up by two and was the Cougs' only field goal in overtime, at least until Scott Moon's biggest big-time shot, which went like this:
With 43 seconds left, Hawaii's Ray Reed tied the game on two free throws. BYU passed the ball around, working time off the clock and looking for a shot to win it. The ball finally ended up in Heslop's hands, again in the right corner, and he launched a long two-pointer. It caromed off the rim long, however, and Moon - who had grabbed 18 offensive rebounds all season and was playing with a metal plate and six screws in his shooting hand - snatched it and threw up a one-handed jump prayer. While players, coaches and a crowd of 10,000-plus held their breath, the ball bounced around the rim - estimates of the number of bounces range from three to seven - and dropped through the hoop, after the game clock had expired.
"I was just screaming, 'Go in! Go in!' " said Heslop.
Moon was more polite. He shouted, "Please go in! Please go in!"
"It seemed like it hung up there 10 seconds," Heslop said.
"He (Moon) took a lot of flingers during the year, and I'm always telling him to square up when he shoots, but that one was OK," said BYU Coach Roger Reid.
Big shots weren't the only keys to this game for the Cougars. They made two defensive plays in overtime that probably had more to do with Hawaii losing than Moon's shot. The first came with 1:44 left and Hawaii leading 69-67, when BYU pressured the Rainbow guards trying to bring the ball upcourt before the allotted 10 seconds. Sure enough, when the shot clock showed 35 seconds, Hawaii guard Troy Bowe was still a couple feet from the halfcourt line, and it was BYU's ball.
Wallace didn't like the call. "They (the refs) were anticipating the 10-second call," he said. "Usually, you get 11 or 111/2 seconds."
The next defensive gem came 30 seconds later, with BYU then trailing by one point, when Call clung to Bowe long enough to get a five-second call. Without that call, Heslop might never have had a chance to hit the three-pointer that put BYU ahead.
"We made too many turnovers down the stretch," said Bowe. "It was my fault. We had three timeouts left and I wasn't paying attention to the clock."
But while those mistakes by Bowe proved critical, the truth is that the guards were what got Hawaii into overtime. Without a legitimate inside game, the Rainbows rely on the guard trio of Bowe, Reed and Phil Lott for most of their points. This game was no exception. Firing away from outside, Reed had 25 and Lott 21, while Bowe contributed 11 assists. Colorado State had tried the same three-guard approach against BYU Thursday night, with one difference - CSU's slow guards didn't present the matchup problems for BYU's slow guards that the Rainbow trio presented.
And except for the crucial plays in clutch time, BYU's guards had a tough time against the Rainbows. The Cougar guardline made one of 11 shots in the first half and finished the game having shot 29 percent from the field.
What that means is that the BYU big guys kept them in the game. Gary Trost, who is approaching super-sub status, came off the bench to lead the team with 21 points and 12 rebounds; Steve Schreiner scored 16 before asking to come out because he felt ill; and Shawn Bradley, who played only four minutes of the first half due to foul trouble, had nine points and eight rebounds.
The victory puts BYU at 19-12 and in much better shape to earn an NCAA Tournament berth, especially after the Utah win over Wyoming. If the Cougs beat the Utes tonight, they earn the automatic bid; if they lose, they seem likely to be the second WAC team to receive an invitation.
In any case, BYU is in a definite non-favorite - even villain - position heading into tonight's game.
For example, during pregame warmups, the Utah band played discordant versions of "Rise and Shout" and "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission," and throughout the game, the crowd loudly participated in "Go Bows" cheers led by the Hawaii cheerleaders.
Reid, for one, seems to enjoy the opposition.
"I look at it this way," he said. "We're the underdogs. Saddam Hussein could have been playing tonight, and they'd have cheered him."
That's an exaggeration, of course, but only slight.GAME NOTES: For the first time this season, Bradley didn't have a blocked shot . . . At one point, Bradley showed his untucked shirt to a ref as an example of how he had been held. "They were pulling it out faster they I could tuck it in," he said . . . Early in the overtime, a screaming Wallace got so excited he collapsed to his knees, red in the face. He said he had to take a pill and sit down for the rest of the period.