PROVO — Things looked bleak for BYU coach Dave Rose’s team entering the month of January. The Cougars had a mediocre 8-7 record and were mired in a four-game losing streak.
“You don’t want your team to get in a situation that we got in,” Rose recalled Monday in his office during a season-ending interview with the Deseret News, “and you wonder what direction the team’s going to take.”
As it turned out, Rose made some adjustments, the players regrouped, and BYU bounced back to finish with a 23-12 overall record and earn its seventh bid to the NCAA tournament in eight years.
“I’m really proud of this group. There’s a lot of different ways they could have handled that situation,” Rose said. “These guys were really determined that they were going to fix it and change it and take advantage of the opportunities that we had in the second half of the season that we kind of let get away in the first part of the season. The fact that we got to the NCAA tournament, which is the main goal that you set every year, that brings some validity to the fact that they did turn it around.”
The Cougars received a surprising No. 10 seed and lost to No. 7 Oregon in the tournament in Milwaukee.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t advance,” Rose said. “Once you make the tournament, you want to advance. Hopefully that really motivates us for what we have ahead of us in the offseason.”
Rose said that thanks to an infusion of several talented players going into next season, “we'll have a better team” in 2014-15.
“I really like our roster, with depth on the guard line and depth at the post,” Rose added. “I feel pretty confident about the makeup of our roster.”
The Cougars will add transfers Chase Fischer (Wake Forest) and Jamal Aytes (UNLV); returned LDS missionaries Isaac Neilson and Jordan Chatman; and freshman Ryan Andrus (American Fork High).
That group will bolster an experienced nucleus — WCC Player of the Year Tyler Haws; guards Kyle Collinsworth, Matt Carlino, Anson Winder, Skyler Halford and Frank Bartley IV; and forwards Nate Austin, Luke Worthington and Josh Sharp.
With no seniors graduating, the Cougars lose just one player, forward Eric Mika, who departs for an LDS mission in May.
That leaves BYU with 14 players on the roster and just 13 scholarships available.
Rose said he will sit down with his players this week for their annual interviews and then determine how to handle the scholarship crunch.
“We won’t make any decisions until we finish up with the player-coach meetings,” Rose said. “They’re pretty upfront, honest evaluations from the player to me and from me to the player. Then after that, you give it some time to see how it plays out with the guys that are returning. We need to get to the end of the academic term. From there, the majority of the time, it works itself out around the first part of May. We’ll see how it goes this year.”
BYU played in the NCAA tournament without Collinsworth, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the West Coast Conference tournament championship game against Gonzaga.
Rose said the surgery went well and Collinsworth is eager to begin rehabilitation. Recovery time for a repaired ACL injury is usually six to eight months. Rose is optimistic that Collinsworth will be on the floor sooner than that.
“The doctors are really encouraged about how the surgery went,” Rose said. “Kyle’s really positive. He’s got to get through another couple of weeks of the recovery process, then he can start the rehab process. When he gets into the rehab, it will be good for him, for his mind and his body. He’s a worker. That’s what made him such a good, versatile player.
"The time frame fits for him to play next year. Hopefully, as we get through the rehab process, we’ll be able to figure out when he can actually get back and start going full tilt. We fully expect that to happen, and so does he.”
Once again, the Cougars will play an intriguing, and challenging, nonconference schedule, including a spot in the prestigious Maui Invitational in November.
“We always want a national, competitive tournament where we can get basketball’s elite teams on a neutral floor,” Rose said.
The Maui Invitational teams are Arizona, Kansas State, Pitt, Missouri, San Diego State, Purdue and Chaminade.
“The field is tremendous,” Rose said. “Our guys are really excited about that. Playing successful programs really helped us as far as getting back to the NCAA tournament this year.”
BYU’s home games include matchups against Stanford, UMass and Utah, and the Cougars will play Utah State and Weber State on the road.
“The majority of the schedule is put together,” Rose said. “We have a few games we have to fill in. Hopefully, we’ll get that done soon.”
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Final record: 23-12 overall, 13-5 West Coast Conference
Statistical leaders: Tyler Haws (23.2 ppg), Kyle Collinsworth (8.1 rpg, 6.4 apg)
Key returners: Haws, Collinsworth, Matt Carlino, Anson Winder, Nate Austin, Skyler Halford, Frank Bartley IV
Key newcomers: F Jamal Aytes, G Chase Fischer, C Isaac Neilson, F Ryan Andrus, G Jordan Chatman
Key losses for 2014-15 season: F Eric Mika
Rose says: "I really like our roster, with depth on the guard line and depth at the post. I feel pretty confident about the makeup of our roster.”