By Chad Newswander
After losing four starters and an honorable mention All-American player last season, head coach Steve Cleveland”s basketball team won 18 games and crawled into post-season play this year.
In his fifth season as Cougar head coach, Cleveland has almost restored the Cougars to their former glory.
The first six years in the 90s”, the Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament five times.
The past three years, BYU (18-12, 7-7) has gone to the National Invitational Tournament twice and the NCAA Tournament once.
The team finished the season with several wins over some of the best teams in the country. BYU defeated NCAA tournament bound teams Creighton, Santa Barbara, Wyoming and Utah. The Cougars also defeated nationally ranked Stanford.
The quality wins and their strength of schedule gave them a RPI ranking of 52. Looking at the RPI ranking alone, BYU should have been selected to the field of 64 in the NCAA tournament.
However, the Cougars were not the most pleasant team to observe this year. They lost 11 straight games on the road and were defeated in their last three games before post-season play started.
“Every time you come on the road it is a different atmosphere. You are not as quite as comfortable as you are at home,” sophomore Bart Jepsen said.
BYU”s record away from home was almost exactly opposite of its record in the Marriott Center. It did not lost one game in Provo this season. In fact, it has not gone astray in front of Cougar fans in two years.
One reason the Cougars could not find a way to lose on their home court was the improved play of junior guard Travis Hansen.
Last year Hansen averaged five points and three rebounds a game. Compare those numbers to the 15 points and six rebounds he averaged this season.
“When we need him on the floor, he has been our go to guy for the last month,” head coach Steve Cleveland said. “He is an emotionally aggressive and hungry young man.”
Senior point guard Matt Montague was another player the Cougars needed on the floor. In fact, they could not get him off the court. He averaged 37 minutes of playing time. He utilized those minutes to average seven assists and score six points a game.
However, when BYU needed him most against second round NIT opponent Memphis, he played only 23 minutes because of foul trouble. The Cougars lost that game to end their season.
“The MVP on this team is Matt Montague,” Cleveland said.
As this senior and his BYU records leave Provo, Montague said that he believes the Cougars will be nationally known.