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Provo • When BYU lines up Tuesday night to take on the Baylor Bears in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City, it will be just the second time that the Cougars will have played a basketball game in the month of April.
The first, and last, time was in 1903 in the program's first season of existence. BYU lost to Colorado 16-10 on April 2 in Provo.
"I encouraged the guys today to score a couple more points than maybe that team did," coach Dave Rose quipped after the Cougars held their final practice in the Marriott Center before leaving for the Big Apple.
Rose's response to a question about the historic significance of BYU's first trip to the NIT semifinals since 1966 illustrated how relaxed, loose and confident the coaches and players are now, having erased memories of their disappointing finish to the regular season with three straight NIT wins.
"From where we were six months ago maybe not that excited [about doing well in the NIT]," Rose acknowledged. "From where we were two weeks ago [before beating Washington in the tourney opener], we are in great shape now."
Saturday, Nate Austin, Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino all talked about how tuned in the 24-11 Cougars are right now, and how excited they are for a rematch with 21-14 Baylor in what Carlino referred to as the "mecca of basketball."
"It is unbelievable," Carlino said. "It is going to be really fun, and we are all excited."
Rose said earning a trip to the NIT's Final Four has re-energized the program, which was listing a bit after falling 72-69 to San Diego on March 8 in the West Coast Conference quarterfinals.
"We went to six straight NCAA Tournaments before this year, and I don't remember being any more excited than we are right now," Rose said. "I mean, this is really good for our team. It is really good for our program."
Yearning for a Yankees game
Anyone who has been around the program for any amount of time knows that Carlino is the biggest New York Yankees fan in Provo, perhaps the state of Utah. As luck would have it, the Yankees are hosting the Red Sox on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
"If it can work out, I am going to be there [Monday]," Carlino said, although it appears unlikely because it is a day game and the Cougars have media obligations. "I don't think it is on the itinerary, but if we win the Baylor game, we will get to go to the next one [on Wednesday]."
Rose said that forward Josh Sharp (strained Achilles) did not practice Saturday but ran some stairs without a limp and was moving around well. "It is getting better, but we will just have to wait and see" if he can play, Rose said. … A member of BYU's NIT-winning team in 1966, Jim Jimas, coached Haws' father, Marty, at Hillcrest High in Midvale.
BYU vs. Baylor
P NIT semifinal
Tuesday, 5 p.m.
TV • ESPN2