LAS VEGAS Dave Rose has BYU playing for the tournament trophy once again in the Thomas & Mack Center after carving out a win over San Diego State Friday night.
It wasn't pretty, but BYU got key buckets from their top guns in the second half to rise above San Diego State 63-54 and advance to the finals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament for the second straight year.
"It was a battle, a real war out there," said senior guard Sam Burgess.
Lee Cummard led the Cougars with 20 points and seven boards, while Trent Plaisted chipped in 19 points as Rose leaned on his veterans to deliver his 27th win of the season.
"I'm looking forward to it," Cummard said of tonight's championship game at 5:05 p.m. Last year, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth the way we ended it in the championship game, and I want it to end better."
The title game will be televised live on Versus.
The Aztecs, battling a team-wide flu situation, decided to slow it down against the Cougars, who scored 89 on Colorado State Thursday. That led to a plodding, ugly contest with eight lead changes and four ties until reserve center Chris Miles canned all three of his inside shots just after halftime to give the Cougars a 38-35 lead after being up by just one point at halftime.
"Miles came in and was physical and made those shots in a few minutes, and that energized us and got the rest of us going," said Rose. "It gave Trent a chance to rest and finish strong."
At that juncture, Jonathan Tavernari and Cummard knocked down back-to-back bombs, and when freshman Jimmer Fredette found Cummard for a driving lay-in with 8:36 to play, the Cougars were on their way to an 8-2 run and an 11-point advantage with 4:17 to play.
Both teams played without much emotion and looked energy-deprived on the court. The Cougars managed just two 3-pointers in 10 tries in the first half but made 3 of 4 to start the second half. That burst was the difference as the Aztecs lacked any firepower except center Ryan Amoroso, who ended with 18 points.
"We tried to speed things up," said Rose of the slow pace of the game. "The problem is, we didn't finish."
After the Cougars fumbled the ball away seven times trying to trigger a transition game in the first half, Rose told his players to play better defense, lock down their assignments and be patient in setting up shots. It worked.
The Cougars started getting stops on the Aztecs and began getting layups on the other end with post players and Cummard.
"We're going to have our flu shots before next season," I'll tell you that," said SDSU coach Steve Fisher.
Lorrenzo Wade, who torched the Cougars in San Diego with a career high 28 points, sat out most of the first half. He finished with 10 points, but dragged himself
up and down the court and had a 3-point shot blocked by Cummard with 2:30 left. Cummard also drew a charge on Wade in the opening minutes of the game, forcing him to sit down with two fouls.
"I'm proud of our team, we fought hard, but we couldn't take away easy baskets from them in the second half," said Fisher. "By my estimation, they had eight layups in the second half, and you can't allow that many to a good team like BYU."
"Trent Plaisted is all-conference for a reason. Lee Cummard is co-player of the year for a reason," he added."The stakes are high," Cummard said of Friday's advancement to today's finals. "We want to play and continue to play. We know our team counts on us a lot for certain things and leadership is being one of them."