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Las Vegas • After the Cougars were blown out and embarrassed by Gonzaga 77-58 late Saturday night in the West Coast Conference semifinals, BYU coach Dave Rose said it as succinctly and directly as he could.
"This team deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament," Rose said.
It is going to be a long week of waiting and wondering for the Cougars, however.
Sure, Saturday's disaster at Orleans Arena won't mark the last time the 25-8 Cougars play this season. If they don't get one of the coveted 37 at-large bids on Selection Sunday, they almost certainly will get a top seed in the NIT.
But for a program that has made five straight NCAA appearances, reached the Sweet 16 last year and has won 25 or more games for the sixth straight season, the NIT would be a major letdown.
"This team has overcome a lot and has been resilient in times of challenges," Rose said. "We've been consistent, and we want to keep playing [in the NCAA Tournament], and hopefully we can."
So the Cougars will sit back this week and cheer for the favorites in the other conference tournaments, hoping the proverbial tournament bubble they are perched upon doesn't expand, that bid-stealers don't creep in and pull off a string of upsets.
"It is going to be hard to sit around, waiting and watching games, just seeing what happens out there," said BYU senior Noah Hartsock, who acknowledged after playing 30 minutes against Gonzaga that his left leg (knee, ankle, calf) is still sore.
"It is still bothering me," Hartsock said after scoring 12 points but gathering just one rebound. "Playing [Friday against San Diego] and coming back today, it still had an effect on it. It is something you just have to go through right now. The team needs me and at this time of year, you just have to go through it and play."
It's tough to call whether history is on BYU's side, as far as its big dance chances are concerned. Last year, Saint Mary's also went 25-8 but was left out on Selection Sunday and ended up receiving a No. 2 seed in the NIT.
A lot of RPI experts and bracketologists won't come up with new projections reflecting the weekend's games until Monday or Tuesday, but noted analyst Jerry Palm presented an updated one on Sunday that has BYU as a No. 10 seed, playing in Pittsburgh. Most others had the Cougars as a No. 11 or a No. 12 before the Cougars beat San Diego on Friday and lost to Gonzaga on Saturday.
"We are disappointed, just by the fact that we lost," Hartsock said outside BYU's locker room Saturday night. "But we have a good enough record that we are going to be playing some more basketball. It is new for us because usually we play on the last weekend before they make any selections or tournament bids, and so now we got a whole week.
"We did what we could, and now we just have to go from here," he continued. "We just know we are going to play some more games, so that's good."
• Only Kansas and BYU have recorded 25 or more wins for six straight seasons.
• RPI in the top 50.
• 5-6 record against top-100 RPI teams.
• 25-8 overall record; 12-5 record away from home.
• Strength of schedule in top 100.