LAS VEGAS – Old news; new story.
The BYU men’s basketball team is a No. 3 seed in the West Coast Conference Tournament. They will play the No. 6 seed San Diego after the Toreros beat the seventh seed Pepperdine. Sound familiar?
The 2013 West Coast Conference Tournament is starting to look and feel a lot like last year’s tournament, as many of the same elements return.
The Cougars will take on San Diego Friday at 8:30 PST at the Orleans Arena. The game will be the Cougars’ first of this tournament, and the winner will advance to play Saint Mary’s Saturday night to see who will play in the championship game on Monday.
When these two teams met last year in the tournament, the game went down to the final few seconds, as the Cougars pulled out a close win 73-68. BYU then went on to lose to Gonzaga in the semifinals.
However, one important factor is different this season. Even though BYU didn’t win the conference championship last year, they were still able to make it into the NCAA Tournament for an eighth consecutive year and win a tournament game for the third straight year.
If the Cougars can’t pull off a miraculous championship this season, their hopes of continuing their impressive streak will be all but dashed. Their 21-10 overall record and 10-6 conference record will not be enough to convince the voters of their place in the Big Dance. The Cougars know their situation is precarious, with their backs firmly against the wall.
“We know exactly what we have to do, and we’re going to come out swinging,” senior forward Brandon Davies said. “We know that it’s doable and possible. It’s not going to be easy by any means, but we’re all willing to make the sacrifice and do everything we need to do.”
Even though BYU lost two of its final three games, the Cougars can feel confident of their ability to play with anyone in the conference. They held the lead against No. 2 seed Saint Mary’s for the majority of the first half but lost the game and then came back against Gonzaga to narrowly lose by 5 to the current No. 1 team in the nation.
“We were encouraged with the way that we played and how we came out and how tough we were,” senior guard Brock Zylstra said. “With both of them, we didn’t make the plays down the stretch, but we feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”
In Thursday’s tournament game, San Diego overcame a 10-point deficit to Pepperdine to regain the lead, which the team kept all the way to the end despite a few runs by the Waves to make it close. The Toreros won 62-59 on the strength of sophomore guard Johnny Dee’s 16 points, nine of which came in a single stretch just before halftime to regain the lead. Senior forward Chris Manresa also added 9 points and 11 rebounds.
“We have a quick turnaround, just like everybody in the tournament,” San Diego head coach Bill Grier said. “I think our guys have some confidence having beat (BYU) at home, but I’m sure BYU is licking their chops, wanting a piece of us after that. Our guys have to go out and execute our game plan and be ready to go tomorrow.”
In the first game this season between San Diego and BYU, the Cougars were able to run away with a 74-57 win in Provo behind 25 points from Tyler Haws, the leading scorer in the WCC. Three other players also scored in double figures in the win. However, in the rematch in San Diego, the Toreros closed out a narrow victory 74-68, despite a double-double from Davies and 27 points from Haws.
“(BYU) has two all-league players,” Grier said. “Tyler Haws is as good a scorer as I’ve seen in this league. Davies is athletic and very mobile. So they have a very good inside-outside combination. They present a tough matchup.”
The Toreros are led by Dee, who is averaging 14.7 points and shooting 37.5 percent from 3. Manresa also adds 9.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The Cougars bring in the league’s leading scorer in Haws, who’s averaging 20.9 points as well as Davies, who brings an average of 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest.
As both of these teams need a conference championship to play in the NCAA Tournament, there will be no shortage of urgency in Friday’s game. The Cougars are hungry to prove they belong in the NCAA Tournament for a ninth consecutive year.
“We need to get a whole group of guys, as we go down there, to play their best basketball of the season,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “That urgent feeling where you realize there won’t be another chance. Hopefully that sense of urgency will permeate throughout all the guys and we’ll play our best games while we’re down there.”
The game will tip off at 8:30 PST and will be televised on ESPNU.