Provo » They didn't win a piece of the conference championship for the first time in four years. But the BYU Cougars and their coaching staff insist they raised the bar for the program in 2009-10 after making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and becoming a mainstay in the national rankings.
"It was a special year," said coach Dave Rose.
BYU's best season in school history ended Saturday night in Oklahoma City, as powerful Kansas State of the Big 12 turned the defensive screws on the Cougars in an 84-72 victory that propelled the Wildcats into this week's West Region semifinals in Salt Lake City.
But after expressing major disappointment in not being able to go toe-to-toe with a Kansas State (28-7) team that hovered in or near the Top 10 all season, the Cougars summed up the season positively.
"I believe in the five years that we have been doing this together with our staff, that our team has gotten better every year, and we're to a point now where I think our players really believe in the program," said Rose. "It was the first year we got into the national polls and stayed there for quite awhile [11 weeks]. Those are great steps that you can kind of build on."
The biggest step, by all accounts, was winning a tournament game for the first time in 17 years, a win that made them the only 30-win team in school history.
"We had a great season," said junior guard Jimmer Fredette. "We were able to get past the first round finally, but we ran into a really good team."
Fellow guard Jackson Emery said the team built good chemistry and confidence, despite the fact that Fredette emerged as a superstar and seniors such as Jonathan Tavernari, Lamont Morgan Jr. and Chris Miles were relegated to support roles.
"Lots of guys that have the talent that Jimmer has, they can let it go to their head and think about themselves and about their personal future," Emery said. "But Jimmer always had us as his top priority and winning, and helping the team do whatever we needed to do to advance."
Not that the Cougars are satisfied. Rose said he believes the foundation is in place to make another strong run next year, and perhaps get back to the top of the Mountain West Conference, although the three other teams that shared the podium with the Cougars in 2010-- New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV -- don't lose much either and will be just as good, probably better.
"Coming here and winning the first-round game after not having a lot of success in the first round, what it does is I think it helps your recruiting [and] when your players come in, they all come in with a little higher expectation," Rose said. "And I think that's a good thing, and so we will just continue to plug away and try to get better and better."
So what's next?
Tavernari, Miles and Morgan Jr. move on, while Tyler Haws leaves on a church mission to the Phillipines.
The program welcomes Chris Collinsworth and Nick Martineau back from missions, with Collinsworth expected to step into a starting role after the 6-foot-9 Provo High product averaged 3.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 15.9 minutes a game in 2007-08.
The Cougars are hoping that Collinsworth's brother, 6-6 Kyle Collinsworth, can step in as a freshman and contribute immediately, just as Haws did after a stalwart prep career that brought Utah player of the year honors as well.
In November, they also signed Anson Winder, a 6-3 guard from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas.
They have one more scholarship available to give out this spring, which will likely be used on a junior college transfer who can bolster their low post.
» Best record, 30-6, in school history
» Ranked in Top 25 for 11 straight weeks
» Won NCAA Tournament game for first time in 17 years
» Won 30 games for first time in school history