Experience is overrated.
That's the inevitable conclusion after a young BYU team with virtually no NCAA Tournament track record put away a tourney-seasoned Virginia team 61-48 Thursday at the Huntsman Center.The Cougars did it by being the first team to overcome a bad case of nerves. After a low-scoring first half, BYU in the second period discovered an offense to complement its game-long good defense.
"In the second half we concentrated, we got the jitters out, we did the things that got us here," said BYU's Gary Trost.
"We knew we had to produce or go home," chimed in guard Scott Moon.
Faced with that choice, the Cougars produced. And the Cavaliers get to go home, where they may have nightmares about the BYU defenders - particularly 7-foot-6 center Shawn Bradley - who held them to 27.7 percent field-goal shooting.
At a press conference Wednesday, the Cavs said they planned to take the ball right at Bradley, hoping to get him in foul trouble.
Bradley played 37 minutes, was never in foul trouble, blocked 10 Cavalier shots (an NCAA Tournament record) and caused a bunch more to clang harmlessly off the rim.
"He broke our concentration once we got the ball in the middle," said Virginia forward Bryant Stith. "He was playing a one-man zone."
"Anytime we scored inside it was a major accomplishment," said Cavalier coach Jeff Jones.
Actually, anytime they scored at all it was noteworthy. When it was apparent by halftime that Bradley was serious about this inside-defense stuff, the Cavs tried their luck at the three-point line.
Eleven times. Eleven misses. Most of them by a lot. It seems this stingy BYU team was playing defense on the perimeter, too.
On the other hand, the Cavaliers also missed the few wide-open shots they took.
Now, before this starts to sound like a BYU blowout, keep in mind that the Cougs were behind at halftime, 22-19. They started the game by committing turnovers on three of their first four possessions, and finished the half with 11 turnovers, through traveling, throwing bad passes, dropping good passes, etc.
The Cougs had only two official field-goal attempts in the first four-plus minutes, and by halftime had shot a pitiful 17 times. BYU's guard trio of Nathan Call, Scott Moon and Mark Heslop had taken three shots.
BYU's only salvation at that point was that it had made seven of those 17 shots, while the Cavs, who shot 31 times, made just eight.
"It's hard to keep holding a team down when you miss so many shots," said Stith.
Jones said his team paid a price late in the game for its first-half defensive effort.
"They (BYU) wore us down," he said. "We expended so much energy playing defense, especially in the first half, and we didn't get anything out of it in terms of points. It seemed like we were on defense three-quarters of the game."
The second half was pretty much a seesaw affair, both teams scoring better, until BYU went on a 7-0 mini-spurt about the midway point. Leading 34-33 with 10:27 left to play, Heslop missed a three-pointer but Trost grabbed the rebound and scored. A minute later, Heslop hit a tough 15-footer from the right side and was fouled. His free throw was good, and the score was 39-33.
After a miss by Virginia's Kenny Turner, Bradley was fouled and made both free throws for a 41-33 lead.
That eight-point lead, of course, meant it was time for BYU to go into its time-manipulation scheme, whittling the shot clock down to a few scant seconds before putting the ball up. The usual result was that the impatient Cavaliers fouled someone before the shot clock could get too far down, but that was just fine with BYU too. Over the final eight minutes, the Cougs - not noted as a spectacular free-throw shooting team - were 16 for 16 at the foul line. Their smallest lead was six, the biggest 17.
The leading scorer and rebounder for the Cougars was Trost, with 13 points, 11 boards. Steve Schreiner had 12 points on five-of-six from the field, and Moon had 10.
Virginia's senior point guard, John Crotty, had 20 points. The only other Cavalier in double figures was Stith, with 13 points on four of 13 shots. The Cavs' third-leading scorer, Turner, made three of 17 shots.
As for that experience stuff, it never came into play. Crotty, who was playing in his seventh NCAA Tournament game, said it didn't get a chance.
"We didn't keep the game close enough at the end where it (experience) would have been a factor," he said.
BYU's next opponent, at 12:20 p.m. Saturday, is No. 2 seed Arizona, which polished off St. Francis 93-80 in the late game Thursday. Arizona, a season-long Top 25 team, is experienced - and tall.
The Cougars have already shown they can deal with experience. Now they get a chance to show what they'll do with tall.