Gonzaga upset and scoring record have BYU basketball primed for tournament play

Kyle Collinsworth dunks against Bulldog defenders, adding to his 20 point game. (Bryan Pearson)
Kyle Collinsworth dunks against Bulldog defenders, adding to his 20-point game. (Bryan Pearson)

SPOKANE — A new, all–time scoring record and win over No. 3 Gonzaga have BYU at full steam as it enters the West Coast Conference Tournament this week.

The energy continued to build throughout the end-of-season road trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Tyler Haws became BYU’s all–time leading scorer in the opening minutes of the win over the University of Portland, passing Jimmer Fredette’s 2,599-point record and then continuing to score.

On Saturday, BYU ended Gonzaga’s 41-game home winning streak in a nail-biter that went down to the game’s final seconds. The last time BYU took down a top–three-ranked team was against No. 2 UCLA in 1981. Haws’ point total and current BYU scoring record at the end of the regular season: 2,624.

How the upset against No. 3 Gonzaga will impact post-season play was about all the ESPN commentators could talk about during the final minutes of Saturday’s win. That conversation continues across sports media as predictions for the NCAA Tournament increasingly include talk about BYU.

Cougars might dance in March

Saturday’s upset over Gonzaga has convinced most of the country that BYU is a team fit for tournament play.

A spot in the NCAA Tournament is certain if the Cougars win the WCC tourney in Las Vegas. Make it to the WCC championship, and their big-dance ticket is practically punched. Lose in the first or second round in Vegas — that’s when things would get interesting.

BYU was sitting on the outside of the NCAA Tournament bubble before Saturday’s game against Gonzaga, handicapped by the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) system that ranks teams based upon wins, losses and strength of schedule.

BYU was ranked 56 before Gonzaga but jumped to 38 following the win. The team’s improved RPI rating and impressive win over Gonzaga are attention getters for the Tournament’s Selection Committee. BYU would likely have to beat the Zags once again in the championship game to win the WCC. If the Cougars lose the tournament, they would still be looking at receiving an at-large bid.

BYU’s first WCC tournament game is on Saturday, March 7, according to the schedule.

The other teams with strong season records looking for an at-large bid include Boise State (22-7, RPI 30), Davidson (21-6, RPI 34), Dayton (22-6, RPI 28) and LSU (21-8, RPI 45).

BYU’s victory did more than just add a win to its record. The timing is crucial. Gonzaga had solidified itself as a top–three team throughout the season and was riding a 22–game win streak. Ending Gonzaga’s 41 home game winning streak does more than turn heads. It changes perceptions.

Tyler Haws breaks all-time scoring record in Portland

Haws came out firing in the Cougars’ Feb. 26 game against Portland. He tied Jimmer Fredette’s record of 2,599 career points in the first six minutes of the game.

BYU senior guard Tyler Haws becomes BYU’s all-time leading scorer with a layup in the Thursday, February 26, 2014 game against the University of Portland in Portland. Haws broke the 2011 record of 2,599 points set by Jimmer Fredette. (Photo/Bryan Pearson, The Universe)

Taking a pass from Ryan Andrus, Haws drove into the paint. He was able to score on a layup despite being double-teamed.

His record-breaking basket wasn’t a flashy 3-pointer or fade-away jumper from the corner, and a sizable BYU crowd in the arena went wild. Rather than celebrating, Haws ran back down the court to get on defense.

“It’s a great thing to see all his hard work pay off,” teammate Skyler Halford said. “He’s a great person, and he deserves everything.”

Haws was recruited to BYU as a guard from Lone Peak High School, where he won two state championships. He began his BYU career in the shadow of Jimmermania. While Jimmer Fredette was busy making long-range 3-pointers, Haws found his sweet spot in the midrange shots. Haws averaged 11.3 points per game his freshman year, then came back to the team after a mission in the Philippines and was averaging 21.7 points per game as a sophomore.

“I’m amazed when I actually sit down and look at the numbers, but that’s only half of what Tyler has brought to the program,” BYU Head Coach Dave Rose said. “He’s an example of what I would consider true BYU greatness. He embraces the culture here at BYU, and everything that he does is for the good of the team and the good of the program.”

Haws’ style of play and work ethic emerged from his family roots. He would go to the church gymnasium every morning and practice shooting different shots with help from his dad, former BYU guard Marty Haws. Every practice included shooting 100 free throws in a competition between the two. That hard work has translated to Tyler Haws’ game, where he also holds the record for most free throws made and best free throw percentage.

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