Until next year.
The Cougars’ invite to the NCAA tournament provided an additional day for the Cougars to showcase themselves on the national stage. Unfortunately they were sent home early with a hard loss to the Oregon Ducks, who won easily, 87-68, in second-round play.
The 21-point loss came in the disconcerting aftermath of a torn-ACL injury to sophomore guard Kyle Collinsworth against Gonzaga on March 11, and the Cougars sorely missed his leadership on the floor against Oregon.
“Kyle, he’s a guy that you can’t replace,” said junior guard Tyler Haws. “And he brings so much to our team, but, you know, even with him out, I thought we had chances to win this game.”
The Cougars will have to wait until next year for another year’s competition on the hardwood, but let’s not forget about what happened from November to March. The final chapter of the men’s 2013–2014 basketball season ended with a loss, but there are plenty of chapters worth revisiting.
Non-conference play: Plenty of talent, plenty of buckets
The Cougars took the court in early November on a mission: compete at a high level and score buckets — a lot of them.
Led by Haws, the Cougars jumped out, shooting often in the first four games of their non-conference schedule, earning quality wins against Weber State and Stanford respectively, while scoring in massive amounts, averaging 96 points per game through four games and passed the 100-point threshold twice.
Their first true test at home came Dec. 20 against Iowa State, who was ranked No. 21 at the time and beat the Cougars in a tough defensive battle that showcased some of the NCAA’s premier scorers in BYU’s Tyler Haws and ISU’s Deandre Kane. The 90-88 BYU loss also featured center Eric Mika, whose 6-foot-10 frame and young face showed up big on national television, reeling in 17 points and nine rebounds. It was all praise from BYU head coach Dave Rose after the game.
“Eric did give us some real presence inside, scoring with the ball,” Rose said. “But what he really did for us was offensive rebounds. He had five offensive rebounds. We missed quite a few short shots late that were right around the rim that Eric probably could have helped us with.”
Mika continued to be a dominating force down low, turning into one of the best freshmen of the country, averaging 10 points and six rebounds per game in conference play, earning a spot on the WCC All-Freshman team.
In the eight games between Iowa State and the start of conference play, the Cougars beat Texas, lost to Wichita State — a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament — suffered a bitter loss to in-state rival Utah, and lost to Oregon in overtime. Doubts of conference success loomed large as the Cougars entered conference play.
West Coast Conference play: Upsets and resets
While their non-conference schedule was difficult, the Cougars weathered the storm with patience before being shocked by Loyola Marymount (who finished last in the WCC) and Pepperdine to kickoff conference play. While normally Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s emerge as favorites of the WCC, it seemed as if each team hung out somewhere in the middle, making for competitive games from the top to the bottom of the league.
Back on their feet, the Cougars went on to win five games straight, outlasting a good San Francisco team on the road 83-76, who finished tied with the Cougars for second place in the regular season. But in the follow-up they lost in dramatic fashion to the Portland Pilots 114-110 in triple overtime.
The loss to the Pilots hurt, but redemption against conference rivals would do wonders in the Cougars’ quest to gain a regular season title and an invite to the Big Dance.
BYU snapped a four-game losing streak to Saint Mary’s, winning 84-71 behind efficient play from Haws and sophomore guard Kyle Collinsworth. Haws paced the team with 33, while Collinsworth added 20 points and nine rebounds in a breakout year for the young guard who, along with Haws, earned a spot on the All-WCC First Team.
“It’s interesting that we would field six or seven questions and no one would ask me about Ty and him getting 33,” Rose said after the game against the Gaels. “That’s amazing that he has been as good and as consistent as he’s been.”
Wrapping it up
Tents lined up outside the Marriott Center awaiting the arrival of conference foe Gonzaga in hopes of supplanting the team from its rank.
Holding the Zags to just 22 percent shooting from behind the arc, the Cougars did just that, snapping a five-game losing streak against Gonzaga in a 73-65 win in preparation for the conference tournament. A collective effort, especially from Anson Winder and Carlino off the bench, were a sign of relief for Rose, who witnessed Gonzaga head coach Mark Few shut down Haws on offense.
“Mark’s got himself a really good team, and we were fortunate to make a few more plays tonight,” Rose said. “It’s a big win for us, coming on the heels of another really big win (SMC). That’s a good spot to be in right now.”
With the win the Cougars tied for second in the WCC and entered the conference tournament.
Conference tournament: Championship loss and torn ACL
The Cougars traveled to Las Vegas as one of the hottest teams in the league, having won eight of their previous nine games, but that ended in just over a weekend.
LMU didn’t go away easy, putting up a fight in the second half of a 85-74 win by the Cougars. Kyle Collinsworth added 23 points and 16 rebounds, both career-highs, while Haws scored 22. With momentum and a star point guard, the Cougars were poised to make a run at the championship game if they could get past No. 3 seed San Francisco in the semi-finals.
They did just that, beating the Dons 79-77 in overtime, slipping into the final with Gonzaga, who averaged each of its previous tournament wins by an average of almost 10 points per game, playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.
A 21-point first-half deficit for the Cougars became too much to overcome; they fell to the Bulldogs behind 20 points from the Sam Dower and smart play from David Stockton, who, despite only scoring four points, dished out seven key assists that proved to be the difference in the Zags’ 75-64 win.
A loss in the championship game was tough, but what made it worse was an injury sustained by Kyle Collinsworth, who, off a highlight alley-oop dunk on one end, tore his right ACL on a routine jump at the other, leaving the game for the night. Collinsworth had surgery last week and is expected to be ready to go for next season.