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New York • Interesting, what a month and a strong run in a college basketball postseason tournament can do for a program's perspective on its future.
Not quite a month ago, there were some major question marks regarding the BYU Cougars after they were upset 72-69 in the West Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals by a San Diego team they were favored to dump by a dozen points.
Weaknesses, such as the lack of athleticism, the lack of a reliable point guard and little inside presence beyond graduating senior Brandon Davies, were exposed not only by the Toreros, but in the last half of the regular season when the Cougars went 7-7 down the stretch.
Predictions abounded that the Cougars would do well to come close to matching their win total in 2013-14, let alone coming close to challenging Gonzaga for the WCC perch.
However, it was with a different attitude that the Cougars and coach Dave Rose answered questions following their 76-70 loss to Baylor on Tuesday night in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Despite the loss, Rose, star guard Tyler Haws and 6-foot-11 forward Nate Austin were upbeat as they described how the game got away from the Cougars in the final eight minutes.
"I thought it was a well-played game and I am really proud of our guys," Rose said. "There are a lot of things we needed to do, we felt, going into this game to be able to win, and a couple of them we were able to do."
For instance, the Cougars won the rebounding battle 40-33 against an athletically superior team with a starting front line that went 7-1 and 6-10. They held their own in the paint, getting outscored just 26-24 there.
Austin's play nine points and 11 rebounds was a big reason BYU was not dominated inside, and bodes well for the future as the Cougars try to replace Davies, one of the top 10 scorers and rebounders in school history.
"I think that Nate's effort the last month and a half of the season has been terrific," Rose said. "We had a hard time keeping him on the floor because of foul trouble, but the last three or four games he's just been so valuable to our team. … He's a sophomore with two more years, and I think he really found a niche on how he could help our team."
Carlino also played well in the four NIT games, showing the consistency that coaches have wanted out of the mercurial guard the entire season. Lost in his 3-point shooting flurry Tuesday night was his improved playmaking six rebounds, five assists and just one turnover in 35 minutes.
"We knew that Matt was going to get really good looks because of how Baylor was playing [our] screens," Rose said. "Matty shooting those open shots was a good percentage for us. We could have used those shots a little bit earlier, but I am glad he hit them late."
So what's next?
Haws, Carlino and Austin will all be juniors next year, and definite starters, although another junior-to-be, Josh Sharp, could regain his starting role as well. Versatile playmaker Kyle Collinsworth returns from a church mission after averaging 5.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game as a freshman in 2010-11.
And big things are expected of Lone Peak High center Eric Mika, an incoming freshman who will play a year before going on a church mission. Mika is the heir apparent to Davies, if only for a year.
BYU's projected lineup for 2013-14
Player • Year, position (height, weight):
Tyler Haws • Junior, guard (6-5, 200)
Matt Carlino • Junior, guard (6-2, 175)
Nate Austin • Junior, forward (6-11,230)
Kyle Collinsworth • Sophomore, guard (6-6, 210*)
Eric Mika • Freshman, center (6-9, 220)
*Listed height and weight before church mission