BYU basketball opens tourney against Tulsa



    With its preseason goal achieved, the BYU men’s basketball team enters the Western Athletic Conference tournament on cloud nine.

    After being thrown to the vultures for dead during a nine-game losing streak the last half of the season, the Cougars won three of their last four games and proved it still has a pulse.

    Suddenly, BYU finds itself in good position not only to participate in the WAC tournament, but also to be a spoiler and win some games.

    The Cougars, 9-20 overall and 4-10 in the WAC, play Tulsa, 18-11, 9-5 in the WAC, Tuesday in the first round. Tip-off is at 1 p.m. MST. The game will also be televised live on KSL. The winner of the game plays New Mexico Wednesday.

    In their Jan. 5 meeting, BYU got 22 points and nine rebounds from Ron Selleaze and a 57-53 win. In the return meeting at the Marriott Center Feb.7, Tulsa’s Rod Thompson scored 16 and Michael Ruffin grabbed 12 rebounds in the Golden Hurricane’s 65-59 win. That game had ugly written all over it, as both teams shot less than 40 percent from the field.

    “I hate to use cliches, but we have to take these games one day at a time,” BYU head basketball coach Steve Cleveland said. “If we play well against Tulsa, we can win. If we don’t, we’ll lose. It’s that simple.”

    Cleveland said he felt the pressure to get to the tournament during the team’s losing streak. Now, after posting four wins in the WAC and nine overall, Cleveland said this has to be considered a successful year.

    He said with so much turnover in the coaches and players from last season’s team, he is very pleased with how this season turned out.

    Junior guard Brian Dignan said the team was excited with its win Saturday because the team realized its goal. He said it is now time to establish a new goal for the tournament.

    “When you do (reach your goals), it makes everything you’ve done worthwhile,” Dignan said. “But now that we’re here, we might as well go do something in the tournament.

    “We can win. If we play our game, we have a good chance.”

    Cleveland said he is concerned with the energy level of his team after such an emotionally and physically draining week. He noted the team was forced by last week’s snow to take a bus to Las Vegas in order to fly to Albuquerque, N.M., for its game with the Lobos. Little did the team know the detour would foreshadow this week’s trip.

    Then, two nights later, the team played a 55-minute game that had more emotional twists and turns than a walk through the Wilkinson Center.

    “The experience we’ll gain by playing in the WAC tournament is a good thing,” Cleveland said. “It implants in our players minds what it takes to get there. Hopefully, we can get there every year from now on and maybe even get a bye (in the first round).”

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