By ADAM WHITTEN
Hey baby, let’s go to Vegas. Kiss the WAC doormat life good-bye.
Elvis has left the building to settle in Las Vegas, and thanks to Lance Archibald and Mekeli Wesley, the BYU men’s basketball team will be appearing there too.
BYU did what little thought was possible as late as a week ago. The Cougars qualified for the WAC tournament by defeating UTEP 76-75 Saturday night in triple overtime. Wesley’s free throw with .7 seconds remaining in the third overtime allowed the team to reach the goal it set before the season.
Reserve guard Lance Archibald put BYU in position to win the game by nailing a 25-foot three-point shot with less than 15 seconds left in the game to tie the game 75-75. Archibald had thrown up an air ball from three-point range less than a minute earlier.
After forcing a UTEP miss in the third overtime, BYU got the ball off a deflection with 4.4 seconds remaining. The Cougars called a timeout, and BYU head coach Steve Cleveland designed what turned out to be the winning play for Wesley. Cleveland said he had not used that play since his high school coaching days.
Wesley drove the length of the court before getting fouled. Wesley, shooting more than 90 percent from the line in WAC play, missed the first foul shot before draining the second. UTEP missed a desperation shot at the buzzer.
“This game will stand out in my mind for a very long time,” Wesley said. “It didn’t all hit me until I was in the locker room and I broke down. I just had confidence that (the winning free throw) was gonna go in.”
Wesley matched a career-high with 31 points. He also pulled down nine rebounds. Wesley was 7-18 from the field and 16-18 from the line. Archibald’s trey produced his only points of the game.
Cleveland said Wesley made things happen all night offensively and was a big reason why the Cougars’ season was extended.
Sharif Fajardo dominated inside for the Miners, scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Fajardo set up the stage for Archibald’s heroics by making his second three-point shot of the game to put UTEP ahead 75-72 with less than two minutes left in the third overtime.
With BYU’s win, the Cougars earned a sixth seed in the WAC tournament and will play the University of Tulsa Tuesday at 1 p.m. BYU split its games with the Golden Hurricane this season, winning at Tulsa but losing at the Marriott Center.
The win, coupled with the Cougars’ victory at New Mexico Thursday, marked the first time in 10 years that the Cougars have swept those two schools on the road.
Besides Wesley and Archibald, BYU had many heroes Saturday night. Justin Weidauer was the only other Cougar to post double figures in scoring with 14. He also pulled down 11 rebounds.
Bret Jepsen, a 38 percent free throw shooter, made two clutch free throws with 15.8 seconds remaining in the first overtime to tie the score 63-63, forcing a second extra period.
BYU trailed 34-24 at halftime, and since the magnitude of the game had failed to get the Cougars’ attention, Cleveland’s used the intermission to refocus his team.
“We were disappointed in the way we played in the first half,” Cleveland said. “We challenged our players and they responded in the first five minutes of the second half.”
Cleveland was impressed with the way his team fought throughout the game. He said everyone who played stepped up and did something positive. He pointed out that Ron Selleaze, who scored just nine points for the second straight game, held UTEP guard B.J. Wade to four points.
Cleveland said the win was big for different reasons than the New Mexico win. He said the team should be excited it reached its goal, but insists there is still work to do.
“This was a great win,” Cleveland said. “But we’ve got to keep things in perspective. We’ve got a long way to go, but to come in and play three overtimes and win … that tells a whole lot about the heart of this team.”