Louisville, Ky. • For a few hours Tuesday night and much of Wednesday, the BYU Cougars were the toast of the college basketball world. They reveled in the first-round NCAA Tournament win over Iona after trailing by 25 points in the first half, the biggest comeback in tournament history.
They were the lead story on sports highlight shows up and down the dial.
Even the coach of pre-tournament favorite Kentucky, John Calipari, had some praise for the Cougars, greeting them as they waited for their allotted practice time at KFC Yum! Center with handshakes, high fives and slaps on the back.
By the middle of the day, however, reality started to set in for the Cougars (26-8). To continue on in the Big Dance, they must find a way to beat one of the best teams in the country on Thursday, not an at-large selection from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Highly regarded Marquette (25-7), a No. 3 seed and the second-place finisher in the Big East Conference, awaits 14th-seeded BYU at 12:45 p.m.
"We're definitely excited to play them," said Brandon Davies, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds in the 78-72 win over Iona after missing last year's Sweet 16 run due to an Honor Code violation. "They're a very talented team, a lot of great players. They have a lot of firepower. It's going to take our best effort, our best game, to get a win."
One of the primary questions posed to coaches Dave Rose of BYU and Buzz Williams of Marquette in news conferences Wednesday was simple: Better to have won a grueling opening game two days ago, as BYU did, picking up a good taste of NCAA Tournament atmosphere, or to have been home resting?
"Our guys gained some confidence," Rose said. "Our young guys got a taste of it, and that experience never hurts."
Said Williams: "I think it is advantageous that they've already played. There are two teams in the 2012 NCAA Tournament that are 1-0, and I think that's an advantage."
BYU point guard Matt Carlino, who struggled against Iona and spent most of the game watching from the bench, said he is better off having played under the tournament spotlight. The Cougars committed 20 turnovers against a team that doesn't play defense nearly as well as Marquette does.
"It was a big-time learning experience for me," Carlino said. "I struggled a lot. ... I just have to recognize that as a point guard, I need to be more of a floor general, and understand how to control the game and get the ball to the players that need to get the ball."
Whatever the case, Marquette is a solid favorite today, and will also have an advantage of sorts. The Golden Eagles are more familiar with the arena, which is the home court of the Big East's Louisville Cardinals, although they didn't play there this season.
"It is kind of cool to be the underdog," said BYU's Charles Abouo, noting how "crazy" and "weird" it is that last year the Cougars were a No. 3 seed with heaps of expectations and this year they are a No. 14 seed with absolutely none. And the Cougars feel like they are playing with house money, having gotten that pressure-packed first win under their belts.
"We can play loose and free," Abouo said.
Like BYU, Marquette has two big scoring guns: Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder averages 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds a game; guard Darius Johnson-Odom averages 18.5 points a game.
"We can't give them easy baskets," Rose said. "This is a team that thrives on easy baskets ... and trying to limit them to one shot will be a real challenge."
Rose changed his starting lineup Tuesday, going with junior Brock Zylstra at the two guard spot instead of freshman Anson Winder. He said it is a "pretty good guess" that Zylstra will start Thursday afternoon.
"It's what you want to be doing at this time of year," Rose said. "You want to be preparing for the next team, advancing in the tournament. ... We'll be ready."
BYU vs. Marquette, Thursday, 12:45 p.m., at Louisville, Ky.
A closer look
• BYU has made the NCAA Tournament eight of the past 10 seasons.
• In 2010, the Cougars snapped a streak of seven straight tournament appearances without a win dating to 1995 by beating Florida in the first round.
• In 2011, No. 3-seed BYU lost to Florida in the Sweet 16.