PROVO BYU parlayed strong performances against a pair of perennial basketball powerhouses into Top 25 poll breakthroughs and plenty of praise.
With its 78-76 victory over then-No. 6 Louisville on Friday night and a 76-63 loss Saturday night to top-ranked North Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational championship game where the Cougars were leading late in the second half, BYU went from "receiving votes" to No. 21 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.
Consider the 5-1 Cougars' rocket ride in the rankings from the equivalent of No. 31 in last week's coaches poll and sharing the 39th spot in last week's AP poll.
North Carolina (5-1) remained No. 1 in the current AP poll but dropped to second behind UCLA in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Louisville (4-1) fell from sixth in both to No. 10 in ESPN/USA Today and No. 12 in AP.
Michigan State, which the Cougars face in two weekends at the EnergySolutions Arena, is ranked No. 10 by AP and No. 13 by ESPN/USA Today.
Against Louisville, BYU's Jonathan Tavernari lit up Louisville for 29 points, including 5-of-11 3-point shooting.
"Tavernari was terrific he takes a lot of challenged shots," said Cardinal head coach Rick Pitino. "If you have a guy making big shots like that, it's a big help. He's a potent weapon."
Factor in his 5-of-8 behind the arc in the first half the next night against UNC, and Tavernari was 10-of-19 shooting the trey through three halves. But his sharpshooting (1-of-8 behind the arc) and the team's (1-of-13) went dull in the second half.
That's when Trent Plaisted stepped in and stepped up. Against Louisville, the junior center contributed 21 points and a game-best 12 rebounds, but he seemed flustered on 2-of-8 shooting early against the Tar Heels.
In the second half, he came out on fire, going 8-of-12 from the floor with a myriad of twisting hooks, jumpers and lay-ins, earning the high-pitched glee of ESPN2 broadcaster Dick Vitale during the game and the praise of Tar Heel head Roy Williams afterwards.
"Plaisted was sensational in the second half ... he took it to us with a superb second half," said Williams, adding "I told both Tavernari and Plaisted that they are big-time players. I can admire the way that Tavernari plays. You look at Plaisted's numbers 24 and 17 those are big-time numbers."
BYU led UNC 59-58 with under eight minutes remaining, but the Cougars committed turnovers on three of their next four possessions and misfired on subsequent long jumpers, the result of tired legs after back-to-back nights against fast-paced opponents.
"All the shots that we missed down the stretch were shots that we were capable of making," said BYU head coach Dave Rose.He put the weekend performances in perspective for his players. "I told them that we don't want this to be the high point of the season. We need to stay focused on our goals."
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