Although BYU came tantalizingly close to going 3-0 against Top 10 basketball teams in the last two weeks, that wasn't the best sign for coach Dave Rose. Rather, it was this: His players were ticked.
Don't say "nice try" or "better luck next time" to these guys. You're liable to get a sneaker to the shorts.
Following Saturday's 68-61 loss to Michigan State, center Trent Plaisted wasn't exactly accepting condolences. Asked to estimate the margin between Top 10 teams and the Cougars, he tersely replied: "Very slim. But having said that, they won and we didn't. Our team isn't into moral victories."
Music to a coach's ears.
Nothing is more disconcerting than a satisfied team.
Thus, the Cougars completed their charge through the Valley of Death with a loss. For those keeping score and heaven knows the Cougars are they are 1-2 against Top 10 teams this year. All of which made Saturday's post-game news conference as festive as a bail hearing.
"Nothing to be proud about," said guard Sam Burgess.
Does this means the conga line has been canceled?
If the Cougars were feeling a bit testy after wasting a 14-point lead, they couldn't be blamed. What started as an epic run ended like a lullaby and down will come baby, cradle and all. They began on Nov. 23 with a two-point win over No. 6-ranked Louisville. But the next night they squandered a lead with eight minutes to go against No. 1 North Carolina. Soon to follow were predictable wins over Portland and Weber State. Then it was back to the grinder against No. 6-ranked Michigan State. Yet at one point in the first half, Saturday, BYU looked poised to win easily.
But that was before defensive adjustments by MSU i.e. more physical play limited Plaisted to just five second-half shots and the Cougars to 30 percent shooting. And before the law of shooting averages, and five games in 16 days, and a good opponent started catching up.
"We've got a group of players in that locker room right now that are pretty upset at themselves," said Rose, "because they know they had an opportunity here."
It wasn't as though the Cougars took the second half off, or even that they were intimidated. With three minutes remaining, BYU was still within one. Problem was, just as the Spartans found their shot, the Cougars lost theirs. It was the tale of two halves.
"I think the whole game we felt we should have won," said Burgess. "There was no confidence problem there. We just needed to hit a couple of shots."
Had BYU won, it would come at an opportune time. The game drew 16,412 fans impressive for a contest away from the Marriott Center.
Though billed as neutral court, EnergySolutions Arena proved as as neutral as a Cuban election. All but a couple of hundred in attendance were cheering for the Cougars. The P.A. announcer kept referring to BYU as "YOUR BYU COUGARS!"
At halftime the Cougarettes danced and the "BYU Extreme Dunk Team" dunked.
"Tough atmosphere," said MSU guard Drew Neitzel.
Good thing for them they didn't play at the Marriott Center, where BYU has won 35 straight.
Meanwhile, the legends came out. Former Cougar Danny Ainge showed up before leaving on a same-day flight back to Boston, where he runs the Celtics. Fred Roberts, Mark Durrant, Andy Toolson and Russell Larson were on hand, too.
That's what happens when you start the year 7-1 and beat everyone but the top-rated team in the country.
Also, BYU was rated No. 20 nationally, its highest early-season ranking since 1980-81 when Ainge was playing.
Problem for the Cougars in 2007 was they didn't quite finish, making just eight of 13 free throws in the second half. Which left them wondering what could have happened, or more accurately, blaming themselves for what didn't.
"Seems we were in a little bit too big a hurry," said Rose. "It kinda caused us to rush a little bit."Yeah, well, it's been a season in a hurry all along.