LAS VEGAS- Team effort was all. No career nights. No star performances. Just a solid team effort.
The Don’s pace flipped the Cougars on their head, forcing them to rally together faster than any other game this season. And yet it worked out in the Cougars’ favor, as they squeezed out an extremely close win in overtime 79-77 even after failing to score in the last six minutes of regulation.
Tyler Haws had an unusual night, still coming in as the team’s leading scorer with 24 points, but 14 of those at the line. Not only that, but Haws did not put up any threes after two failed attempts. The shift of leadership in the team was hard for BYU to adjust to, but head coach Dave Rose attributes the call to action for the other players to the confidence the players have instilled in each other.
“This team really has a lot of confidence in their own abilities and what has really turned the season for us has been believing in each other and trusting in each other.” Rose said.
The night wasn’t all struggles for the Cougars. Kyle Collinsworth made a statement once again with 18 points, 12 rebounds and two-for-two in the biggest free throws of his career down the stretch in overtime. Anson Winder and Eric Mika were also key players, Winder with 15 points and Mika with 11. A change in the lineup by Rose favored Mika to start, a change that was not expected but justified.
“I think (Eric) Mika was great tonight, with his 11 points and 10 rebounds. I felt like tonight was a good time to get him back in the starting lineup and he gave us a huge lift to start that game. He really helped us.” Rose said.
On the other side, USF’s stats show just how hard the Dons played in this game. Cole Dickerson scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Avry Holmes showed his aggressive nature and defensive flexibility with 10 points and four steals. What the Dons managed to do was pretty amazing; hold BYU until the very end, forcing the game into overtime. Tied 64-64 when the end buzzer fired, both teams had a fair chance at trying to win its spot in the Championship game.
What BYU did better than USF though, was really step up right when it mattered in the overtime minutes.
“I think we gave a winning effort, but sometimes you just come up short. My hat is off to BYU.” said USF head coach Rex Walters. “They responded really well.”
Even though the night is over, BYU will not and cannot rest just yet. The opponent for the title is smart, defensive and been to the Championship game many times before. A seasoned veteran of the WCC, Gonzaga will no doubt give it all, and usually it is more than enough for Gonzaga to win.
“That feeling that we are going to the finals, you know we have never been there before, especially in this league so it’s an exciting feeling right now,” Winder said. “We know that we are not done yet, we have to win now. And it will be a game that we will have to grind out.”
Gonzaga beat Saint Mary’s earlier tonight 70-54 in a game that was not spectacular but merely average in both play and ability. Saint Mary’s struggled throughout much of the game, but Gonzaga was not too impressive, playing a strangely sluggish offense. Gonzaga’s top shooter Kevin Pangos ended the night with just nine points, only one of them a three pointer.
The Cougars still have a chance and if they do win it all, it will go down as one of the best seasons BYU has seen since the Jimmer days.
The BYU Cougars take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs Tuesday night at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas at 6 p.m.