If nothing else, BYU's basketball team lived up to expectations this season. The Cougars were picked in the WAC preseason polls to finish fifth, and, sure enough, they did.
This was a team that distinguished itself for mediocrity, not miracle-working. BYU was dead last in the league in scoring defense and defense against the 3-pointer. The Cougars never won more than three straight games and finished the year at 14-15 - their first sub-.500 season since 1977-78. BYU failed to earn a post-season berth for the first time since 1984-85 when the Cougars finished 15-14."Going into the season, if somebody had told me to look at the schedule and who was back and what kind of speed we would have . . . and said they'd give me 14 wins, yeah, I'd take that," said Andersen. "Once you're into the season, you think, well, I want to win 25. But all in all, I think it was a pretty good year. People don't think it was, but for me, I was really satisfied with the results."
BYU did have a few impressive areas. The Cougars led the nation in free throw percentage (80.5) and led the WAC in scoring offense. They were a surprising second in the WAC in rebounding margin.
Andersen knew before the season began that they would struggle. Due to recruiting setbacks and players leaving on LDS missions, he had to open practices to walk-on tryouts. One walk-on, junior Kevin Santiago, ended up a starting guard.
In the first game of the WAC season, starting forward Andy Toolson broke a thumb, which Andersen said interrupted the team's cohesiveness.
"I've got to think the results were maybe about as good as we could have when you consider injuries and some sickness. Andy doesn't get hurt, maybe we win 18 games."
Another distraction was the publicity surrounding center Michael Smith, who criticized the coaches in December, then ended up issuing an apology three days later.
Smith was no disappointment on the court. He became the school's No. 2 alltime leading scorer and its top rebounder. He led the conference (league games only) in scoring (27.6 ppg) and was second in overall scoring (26.1).
Although Andersen's team finished right where it was picked, the coach came under criticism by many BYU fans. Andersen's annual evaluation won't take place for several days because Athletic Director Glen Tuckett is out of town this week.
Andersen has said privately he would like to coach two more seasons. "Last year I said sometime within next three or four years I'd probably like to retire," said Andersen. "Then I would have had my turn at bat and felt good about it. A guy thinks about it (retirement) a lot as he get into it. We all don't necessarily look forward to the day."
The big criticism of Andersen appears not to be his record (114-71), but his recruiting. With Smith gone, the program may find itself without a high-profile scorer for the first time in years. Sources on both the prep and college levels have told the Deseret News that some top prep recruits are reluctant to commit to going to BYU as long as Andersen remains coach.
Asked if he felt secure about his job status, Andersen said, "Yeah. I just think that we got about what we were supposed to get out of them. We did a good job coaching that ballclub, considering what we did on the floor, the deficiencies the team had . . . it was good job of coaching on our staff's part, mine included."
It may take an even better job next year. BYU loses Smith and reserve Alan Astle. Returning will be the other four starters - Santiago, Toolson, Steve Schreiner and Marty Haws - and reserves David Wolfe, John Fish and Mike Herring. Highly recruited Spanish Fork guard Randy Reid and Fish may go on LDS missions next year.
Last fall the Cougars signed 6-9 John Lloyd from Dana Point, Calif. and Kirk Davidson, a 6-10 player from Reno, Nevada, to national letters of intent. BYU has also received a commitment from Provo High star Mark Durrant.
Andersen said he will recruit the junior college ranks in hopes of finding more help for the frontcourt.
"What has to happen is we've got to go to the JC's for help," said Andersen. "With the guys coming back, and if we get some of that junior college help, it can be a competitive team next year. But we need some help along that front line."