LAS VEGAS By beating sixth-ranked Louisville on Friday night and advancing to Saturday night's championship game of the 2007 Las Vegas Invitational, the BYU basketball team obviously frustrated the plans of tournament organizers and ESPN officials for a dream North Carolina-Louisville matchup.
Instead, it was a BYU-UNC finale late Saturday night at the Orleans Arena and on the ESPN2 airwaves.
Even Louisville head coach Rick Pitino admitted as much after his Cardinals fell 78-76 to the Cougars.
"We were looking forward to playing UNC, too," he said, adding "but I think that BYU is a better team."
For a number of years, Invitational organizers had sought BYU as a participant, with the Cougars accepting the 2007 berth a couple of years ago.
Obviously, North Carolina and Louisville two perennial powerhouses with strong national followings are the marquee draws this year, with Tar Heel and Cardinal fans not disappointing. Both teams boasted the arena's largest contingents both Friday and Saturday nights.
Conventional thinking would have the Cougars drawing well, too given the five-hour drive time from Provo, a large LDS Church membership locally that represents well at local BYU events (think the last two Las Vegas Bowls) and two players Jonathan Tavernari and Michael Loyd Jr. with Las Vegas-area prep ties.
However, the Cougar contingent Friday night was rather small but vocal, with several factors hindering the pro-BYU attendance. Besides being the holiday weekend, most ardent Cougar sports fans were dialed in on attending Saturday's BYU-Utah football game in Provo.
Also, the $180 two-day and $90 final-day ticket price likely turned away a lot of cost-conscious Cougar fans.
TAKING ON NUMERO UNO: Saturday's championship game against North Carolina marked the fourth time in BYU basketball history that the Cougars faced the nation's top-ranked team, with BYU 0-3 in the three previous pairings.
BYU fell to No. 1 Duke in the 1992 Maui Classic, to No. 1 UCLA in the 1971 NCAA Tournament and to No. 1 Kentucky in the 1951 Sugar Bowl Tournament.
NIPPING AT THE HEELS: BYU came into Saturday's game with an 0-4 series deficit to North Carolina, starting with a 113-93 loss in 1976 at Chapel Hill, N.C. Like Saturday night, UNC was nationally ranked in all four previous matchups.
The other three losses came on neutral courts a 94-81 loss in the 1977 Rainbow Classic in Honolulu; a 97-65 loss in the 1993 Tournament of Champions in Charlotte, N.C.; and an 86-50 loss in the 2004 Maui Invitational back on the Island.
OTHER INVITE SCORES: Other third- and fourth-round contests involving teams BYU faced in the Las Vegas Invitational: Louisville came back from a halftime deficit to down Old Dominion 64-53 in their fourth-round battle Saturday night.Hartford, which defeated Jackson State 73-57 in Friday's third round, needed overtime to beat South Carolina State 82-72 Saturday afternoon. Also Saturday, Jackson State edged Iona 74-70.
E-mail: [email protected]