BYU basketball: Season of ups and downs

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Ari Davis
Nick Emery looks for a teammate during BYU’s blowout loss to UT Arlington in the first round of the NIT tournament. (Ari Davis)

The BYU men’s basketball team’s 2016-2017 season featured highs and lows along the path to a 22-12 record.

High expectations

BYU entered the season with high expectations, as the “Lone Peak 3” was finally back together after Nick Emery, TJ Haws and Eric Mika had all served LDS missions. The additions of transfers L.J. Rose and Elijah Bryant added to the excitement around the Cougars, and they didn’t disappoint in the first game of the season. The Cougars took down Ivy League champion and NCAA tournament-bound Princeton 82-73 as part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon.

Non-conference turmoil

The last week of November saw BYU lose back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 2015.

The first loss came to Valparaiso in Las Vegas in the final of the Men Who Speak Up tournament.

Returning home to the Marriott Center, BYU suffered one of the biggest upsets in program history, falling 114-101 to crosstown foe Utah Valley.

Losses to USC in Los Angeles and Illinois in Chicago followed, hurting early thoughts of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Injuries also plagued the Cougars this season. Senior Kyle Davis suffered a season-ending knee injury, Elijah Bryant was sidelined for weeks with knee problems and L.J. Rose would eventually go down for the season as well.

WCC roller coaster

BYU’s sixth season in the West Coast Conference saw the typical ups and downs of conference basketball.

Early wins against LMU and Santa Clara were offset by a road loss to No. 19 Saint Mary’s.

More road losses to San Diego, Santa Clara and Pepperdine followed and put the Cougars’ streak of top-three finishes in jeopardy.

This season also featured the first-ever visit by a No. 1 team to the Marriott Center, where Gonzaga defeated BYU 85-75 in front of a raucous Provo crowd.

Down goes Goliath

A lackluster regular season seemed determined to finish with a resounding loss at undefeated and national-consensus No. 1 Gonzaga.

But, BYU found its groove and stunned the Bulldogs at home behind 29 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks from Mika. Gonzaga would finish the regular season 29-1 and make a run to the Final Four.

Tournament woes

BYU earned the No. 3 seed for the WCC tournament in Las Vegas, marking the sixth-straight year the Cougars have finished in the top three in the conference.

The Cougars defeated No. 6 seed LMU 89-81 before falling to No. 2 seed Saint Mary’s 81-50 in the biggest loss under head coach Dave Rose.

Despite defeating the No. 1 team in the nation, the Cougars missed out on the NCAA tournament for a second-straight year and accepted a bid to the NIT.

BYU hosted No. 6 seed UT Arlington at the Marriott Center and got shellacked by the Mavericks 105-89.

The Cougars lost their final two games of the season by a combined 47 points.

1,000 point club

Mika scored his 1,000th point as a Cougar at Gonzaga, and Emery achieved the same feat against LMU in the WCC tournament as the duo became the 49th and 50th players in BYU history to score 1,000 points.

Looking ahead

The Cougars know they have to improve on this season’s results and are already looking forward to next year.

“We need to work,” Dave Rose said. “Our players need to go to work. Our coaches need to go to work. We need to find a group of guys that can get together and be able to overcome a lot of the issues that we weren’t able to overcome this year. I look forward to it.”

The vast majority of the team is eligible to return next fall, with only seniors Davis and Rose graduating. The biggest question left unanswered for the time being is if Mika returns for another year or heads to the NBA.

Mika declared for the NBA draft on Wednesday, March 22, and it seems likely that the 6-foot-10 forward will be taking his talents to the next level.

“It’s been a bit of a process,” Mika said at a press conference after he announced his decision. “We really thought through it, considered a lot of different options, weighed a lot of different options, prayed a lot, and I kind of came to the conclusion that this is the best thing for me and what I want to do with my life and where I want to be.”

BYU guard Zac Selijaas returned home early from his LDS mission and could need shoulder surgery this offseason. He could return for next season as well.

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