LAS VEGAS The Cougars made a statement in their opening act. Now, are they capable of backing it up tonight against San Diego State?
It took BYU 20 minutes to find a rhythm in its opening game of the Mountain West Conference Tournament, but once they did, the No. 24 Cougars destroyed Colorado State 89-62 Thursday in the Thomas & Mack Center.
Led by Lee Cummard's 18 points, the Cougars exploded to a 28-point lead over the Rams, setting tournament marks for shooting percentage (65 percent) and margin of victory (27 points).
"You've got to use your imagination on this a little bit," said CSU coach Tim Miles, "but those guys remind me of the Harlem Globetrotters. I mean, they pass, they cut, they make shots. Oddly enough, didn't the Washington Generals wear green and gold?"
The Cougars just didn't stage a jump shot exhibition against the Rams. BYU may have put on its best display of fast-break basketball of the season in sweeping CSU for the third time, padding its season record to 26-6. The Rams, inspired by a win over rival Wyoming the day before, fell to 7-25.
The Cougars made 30 baskets with 23 assists. "They really look like a marquee team to me," Stiles said.
The Cougars now play San Diego State in tonight's semifinals with a 7:35 (MDT) tipoff.
"We had real competitive games against them," Rose said of the Aztecs. "It came down to a last shot at our place and we won, and we had a chance to tie them at the end in a loss at their place. A key for us is to keep them from getting offensive rebounds."
CSU and BYU tangled for the first 20 minutes Thursday, with the Rams staying in the game by knocking down a series of shots with the shot clock almost expired. When Flynn Clayman hit his only shot of the game, a falling-down, no-look hook shot at the buzzer, the No. 9 seed Rams trailed the Cougars 40-34.
CSU collapsed its defense on BYU center Trent Plaisted, essentially inviting the Cougars to beat them with outside jump shots. Sam Burgess, Jonathan Tavernari, Jimmer Fredette, Chris Collinsworth, Ben Murdock and Cummard obliged, making 12 treys.
In the opening minutes of the second half, however, the Cougars cinched down their defense, forcing Ram misses which triggered BYU's fast break and the subsequent romp. In the opening five minutes of the second half, the Cougars were shooting 80 percent from the field.
"When they run and they're able to run, they're remarkable, and I'm not overstating that, either," Miles said.
The Cougars made their first eight buckets of the second half and hit five consecutive 3-point shots. The Cougars ripped off a 16-0 run to deflate the Rams, whose school entered the day with a combined 3-0 tourney record between its men's and women's teams, highlighted by an upset of the 12th-ranked Utah women's team on Wednesday that made ESPN's SportsCenter.
Rose said when he entered a team meeting the night before the game, the players were talking about the Rams' upset of the Utah women. "It proved anything can happen," he told his players.
CSU came out feisty and kept hitting shots on the Cougars, leading by five points eight minutes into the game
"Everything they were throwing up was going in," Burgess said. "And so we know we always have big runs in the game and it was just a matter of time before we hit ours."
Plaisted got it started with his first bucket of the game just after halftime. Murdock then hit a trey and, after baskets by Plaisted and Tavernari, the Cougars led 49-38. At this stage, Cummard knocked down a bomb, followed it with a curling mid-range jumper and Burgess drew a foul on a breakaway layin. When he converted from the line, the Cougars led by 17 at 57-40.
Tavernari and Cummard then knocked down treys and Fredette added two more baskets to take the lead to 68-42.
"That's when we're at our best," Cummard said, "when we're getting stops and getting in transition and really putting some pressure on teams."
Cummard said the Cougars kept gaining confidence in their shooting because teammates were passing up good shots for better shots. "We were being unselfish. It's not very hard to shoot a wide-open shot because your teammate passes up a shot for a better shot."
The game marked another standout effort by senior Burgess, who drew the assignment of guarding the league's top scorer, Marcus Walker. Also, freshman Chris Collinsworth notched his first career double-double, scoring 12 points with 10 boards.
Rose said his biggest concern at the half was that CSU had made 6-of-11 from beyond the arc. So he cranked down the defense.
"We made a couple of adjustments as far as switching out on a couple of flare screens that they were setting," he said. "But we wanted to get to the shooter on the catch and contest the shot."The Cougars shot a blistering 6-of-7 from 3-point land in the second half (85 percent), and made 73 percent from the field after halftime. The Cougars also had seven blocked shots, including two each by Plaisted, Cummard and Collinsworth.
E-mail: [email protected]