By MASON B. NIEDERHAUSER
LAS VEGAS — It’s tournament time. March Madness is in the air and the BYU Cougars are a part of the action in this year’s WAC Tournament.
After coming off a confidence-building 21-point victory Saturday night in the Marriott Center, the BYU men’s basketball team (11-15, 6-8) is in Las Vegas preparing to take on the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (19-9, 7-7) today at 3:30.
Representing the WAC Pacific Division as the fifth seed, the Cougars are one spot higher than expected after Saturday’s games. The Cougar win, coupled with San Jose’s unexpected 75-72 loss to San Diego State late Saturday night, moved BYU to the five spot, paired against Mountain Division fourth seed TCU.
Although the Cougars haven’t faced the Horned Frogs in two years, BYU is coming off perhaps its biggest game of the year. With both Mark Bigelow and Silester Rivers dumping in 20 or more points, the offensive set was as strong as BYU has seen all season.
Bigelow (who is averaging 20.8 points in the last four games), Rivers and the rest of the Cougar squad will have their work cut out for them defensively when they take on TCU and its All WAC Mountain Division first team player Lee Nailon this afternoon.
Nailon, a 6-9 senior who averages 22.4 points and 9.2 rebounds a game, leads the WAC in scoring and provides most of the TCU offense as he dominates play in the paint.
Nailon’s efforts are accented by another 6-9 big-man, Marquise Gainous, whose 18.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game make the pair an imposing duo for defenders.
“TCU will be a tough matchup for us,” BYU head coach Steve Cleveland said. “They were picked to win the Mountain Division this year and are one of the most talented teams in the conference.”
Despite what may happen in the WAC Tournament, this year’s Cougar team is pleased with the improvements it has made over last year’s performance.
“We are happy with the way we finished the conference season,” Cleveland said. “We won two more conference games than we did last year and improved our seeding in the WAC Tournament.”
After going 4-10 at the Marriott Center in 1997-98, this year’s squad finished five games better, with a 9-5 home record.
With the WAC Tournament being single-elimination, a loss this afternoon could be the final collegiate game for some Cougar players. However, with a victory over TCU, the Cougars will face the University of Utah on Wednesday at 3:30 MST.