We’re going to go home a little disappointed. But there’s no question this team has improved. We’ll continue to improve. —BYU coach Dave Rose
PROVO — In the quarterfinals and semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament, BYU scored 85 points in both games and earned a pair of impressive wins, including the end of an exasperating five-game losing streak to No. 20 Saint Mary’s.
But in the WCC tournament championship game Tuesday night at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, the Cougars managed to score just 54 points against No. 6 Gonzaga in a humbling 74-54 loss.
As a result, BYU (24-10) missed out on its hope of stealing an NCAA tournament bid as the Zags, once again, earned the league’s automatic berth to the Big Dance.
So it appears that the Cougars are headed to the National Invitation Tournament for the third consecutive season. BYU will learn its postseason fate Sunday.
How does coach Dave Rose assess his team’s three-games-in-four-days performance in the WCC tournament?
“We’re going to go home a little disappointed. But there’s no question this team has improved. We’ll continue to improve," he said. "We’re on a trajectory to where we’re going to get better and better. We’ve had some personnel issues over the last couple of years that have surprised us a little bit. I think we can continue to get better and compete for championships in this league.”
When someone asked about the Cougars’ case for making the NCAA tournament, Rose reaffirmed his love for his team and what it accomplished this season.
“As far as the NCAA tournament is concerned, we have enough people that are assigned who try to figure out who those 68 teams are,” he said. “But I will just tell you about our team. I know about this team. This team is full of character, full of heart. It has been quite an amazing season with the personnel challenges that we have had. It has played most of the season with eight scholarship players and these guys just kept fighting and they kept believing in themselves and each other. It’s hard to win one game, let alone 24 games in a season. So, I will go to battle with these guys anytime.”
After dispatching San Diego Saturday in the quarterfinals, 85-79, in a game that saw Elijah Bryant pour in 27 points, the Cougars displayed poise, grit and an efficient offense in defeating Saint Mary’s, 85-72, Monday in the semifinals.
Forward Yoeli Childs scored a career-high 33 points and Bryant had 25 against the Gaels and as a team, BYU shot 61 percent.
Against Gonzaga, the Cougars hung in there for about 18 minutes before things got out of hand. The Zags went on a 36-4 run during an 11-minute stretch from the end of the first half to midway through the second half.
Down 63-31, BYU clawed back and cut the deficit to 20 in the game’s waning moments.
"I'm proud of our guys and how we competed early in the game," Rose said. "It's tough when games get one-sided, but from top to bottom our guys showed who they are and hung in there."
Going into the tournament, Rose defended what his team was able to do amid a season that saw the program lose one of its stars — Nick Emery — just days before the season tipped off. Meanwhile, injuries to players like Ryan Andrus and Braiden Shaw hampered BYU’s depth.
“I have all kinds of respect for what this group of guys have done, what they’ve been through and how they’ve handled themselves and how they respond to criticism and challenges they’ve been through,” Rose said. “That’s how I genuinely feel. People should be proud of how they’ve responded to a tough situation. You take one of your best players off your team early in the year and then you get three guys hurt and you play nine games with eight scholarship players. There’s a lot of things that we have not talked about that are real challenges for a Division I team. This team has responded in almost every situation. I get a little irritated at times when people don’t respect what these guys have done, that’s it.”