Cougars defy expectations, return to the Big Dance

161

After a torturous waiting period, and despite the heartbreaking ACL injury to sophomore Kyle Collinsworth, the Cougars did it.

The NCAA selection committee awarded the BYU men’s basketball team a coveted spot in the NCAA Tournament. Tenth-seeded BYU will face the seventh-seeded University of Oregon Ducks Thursday, March 20, in Milwaukee, Wis.

Tyler Haws hits a jumper against the Saint Mary's Gaels on Feb.1 in Provo, UT.
Tyler Haws hits a jumper against the Saint Mary’s Gaels on Feb.1 in Provo, UT.

Throughout this month, BYU was a tentative 11th-seed or lower, facing the possibility of having to fight for a spot with a play-in game in the first round. However, the selection committee showed faith in the BYU squad, putting it in a favorable tournament position despite the loss of Collinsworth, who contributes 14 points per game and a team-high eight rebounds per game, to a season-ending injury.

The Cougars will compete in a loaded West region, headlined by Arizona at the top seed. Arizona will go up against 16th-seeded Weber State in the first round, the only other Utah school to make the tournament. Conference foe Gonzaga will also play in the West region as an eight seed.

Across the nation, the prestigious first-seed positions were awarded to Florida in the South region, Virginia in the East region, and Wichita State in the Midwest.

Although BYU made it to the Big Dance six straight years, from 2007 to 2012, the Cougars failed to make the tournament last season and instead competed in the NIT. This year they return to the tournament for the 28th time in BYU history. In its last appearance in 2012, the BYU squad made it to the second round before falling to Marquette 88-68.

Despite not having a single senior on the roster, BYU has a fair amount of tournament experience. Juniors Nate Austin, Matt Carlino, Josh Sharp and Anson Winder were on the team when the Cougars made their 2012 tournament appearance in the historic 25-point comeback against Iona.

Before their missions, Kyle Collinsworth and Tyler Haws played on the 2011 and 2010 teams, respectively, that both made runs in the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Dave Rose is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament spotlight, having coached BYU to six straight tournament appearances and its first trip to the Sweet Sixteen since the fabled 1981 season.

BYU is in a great spot to advance in this year’s tournament, considering a narrow overtime loss to Oregon earlier this year. The Cougars fell 100-96 after leading by as many as 10 points in the second half at the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. Tyler Haws scored 32 points, and Collinsworth and Carlino chipped in 15 points apiece. 6-foot-2-inch junior guard Joseph Young led the Ducks with 25 points. The Cougars struggled in the overtime period, failing to make a field goal for the last 1:21, resulting in Oregon coming away with the victory.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email