BYU proved here Thursday that it really is tough to beat a team three times in a season -- by 17 points.
That was the margin in the Cougar's two regular-season wins over Colorado State, but in their WAC tournament opener, the cougs managed "just' a 13-point victory."For some reason, I just have a feeling that they are better than we are," said CSU coach Boyd Grant. That pretty well sums it up. BYU certainly didn't pull any surprises. In all three meetings with the Rams, the Cougar game plan has been to shut down outside shooters Mark Meredith and Lynn Tryon. In two previous games, Meredith made two of 10 shots and Tryon five of 20 as Cougar guards Nathan Call and Scott Moon harassed their every shot. This time, Meredith make a three-pointer three minutes into the game, then missed nine straight shots to finish one for 10. Tryon made two layups in the first half but missed his other nine shots to finish two for 11. "We knew we had to get out on them, because if they get on a roll, they can hit a lot of shots," Call said. "BYU's guards played us tough," Grant said. "They can play tougher (on the perimeter) becausee if you drive on them they've got Bradley in the middle." Unlike in some recent games when Bradley has seemed a bit distracted, this time he dominated the middle. He blocked five shots, most of them in the first half (including the Ram's first two shots of the game) when CSU tried testing the BYU inside defense, and he grabbed 13 rebounds. He also scored 16 points. "His (Bradley's) mind was really together today," said Y. guard Mark Heslop. "That was his best game for a while. With Shawn doing those kinds of things -- defense, rebounding, and scoring -- we're a good team and we'll push anybody." In fairness to CSU, it must be noted that this wasn't some start-to-finish laugher. The Rams held an 8-6 lead in the opening munutes when BYU gave a glimpse of what could happen with a 9-0 run to make it 15-8. But the Cougs managed just two points over the next four minutes, while they committed turnovers, missed layups, put up shots that hit the bottom of the rim or backboard, and generally played raggedly. Even Gary Trost, who has given the Cougs such a lift off the bench lately, couldn't help. In 11 first-half minutes, he missed three shots and had one rebound. The Rams tied the game at 19-19, but BYU pulled back out in front by seven at 26-19, only to let CSU score the final five points of the half and cut the lead to two at halftime, 26-24. BYU had been outrebounded and shot a pathetic 33 percent (CSU shot 27 percent), but Reid wasn't worried. "I wasn't concerned, because we had open shots," he said. "If we'd shot over 50 percent and were ahead by two, I'd have been really worried." The game remained close for much of the second half. BYU neverrelinquised its lead, but the Rams got within two points three times. CSU was playing a scrappy zone defense and the Cougs were having trouble finding holes in it. That's when Reid sent in his zone-buster, Heslop, to join Call and Moon in a three-guard lineup. Despite the fact he had missed all four shots he took in the first half, including three three-point attempts, Heslop said he welcomed the opportunity to shoot over the zone. "I was kind of mad at myself, because those were good shots I was getting," he said. "I wanted to make up for missing them." That he did. Entering the game with 13:28 left and BYU's lead down to two again, Heslop popped in three three-point shots over the next six minutes as the Cougs went in front by as much as 10. Heslop's team-mates also started finding the range, shooting 56 percent for the half. "When BYU went with the threeguards it really hurt us," Grant said. The CSU coach said he had hoped to get away with concentrating on shutting down Heslp and Call, figuring that Moon's broken hand would hurt his shooting touch. But when BYU's first score of the game was a three-pointer by Moon, Grant knew that wasn't going to work. Moon just missed double figures with nine points, while Steve Schreiner led the team with 18 and Heslop contributed 11. The only Ram in double figures was guard Wayne Gipson, with 12. This victory, coupled with Hawaii's one-point win over New Mexico, makes the Cougars' chances of playing in the NCAA Tournament look much stronger. What could do the most damage to BYU's outlook is if someone besides it or Utah wins this event. With Utah already having wrapped up one berth, ta team like Wyonimg capturing this tourney --and the automatic NCAA bid -- would mean the NCAA would have to invite three WAC teams for BYU to be included. And in a somewhat down year for the WAC, that seems like a longshot. The loss drops the Rams' overall record to 15-14 and ends their season -- maybe. There's always the NCAA-reject tournament, the NIT, and Grant was asked if he thought his team would be invited. "Not if they watched us play," he said. BYU, meanwhile, improves to 18-12 and next plays Hawaii Friday at 7 p.m. The quick Rainbows caused the taller-but-slower Cougars real problems this season, beating them in Hawaii and playing them close in Provo. Still, Heslop said it was a relief to see New Mexico and 7-2 center Luc Longley dispatched back to Albuquerque. "In some respects we're happy," he said. "On the other hand, Hawaii gives us as much trouble as anybody." One thing BYU can count on is that it will again assume the role of the guys in the black hats against Hawaii. Against CSU, the Cougs laid to rest any suggestion that Arena-Auditorium is a neutral site -- at least for them. The crowd, dominated by Wyoming fans, booed BYU lustily as it took the floor for pre-game warmups. Even the Wyoming score-board operator got into it, flashing signs like "Defense!" when the Cougar's had the ball, and "Yikes!" when a call went against CSU. And it wasn't just a case of the crown favoring the underdog, either. The Cowboy fans proved that when they booed the Cougar cheerleaders. The cool welcome came as no surprise to Cougar players. "It wouldn't be Laramie if we didn't get booed," Heslop said.