In a season that featured the BYU hoopsters entering a new conference, a new experience awaits the Cougars as they make their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, the Cougars will play in the second-ever "First Four," a First Round meeting with fellow 14 seed Iona for the right to take that seed into a Second Round game with 3 seed Marquette Thursday in Louisville.
"It's a neat feeling," said senior forward Noah Hartsock on Monday afternoon, "because it's the First Four, and it's still exciting...just being part of the tournament once more."
The BYU Football team began their second week of Spring practices today in Provo. The team did not practice in pads but will put them on for tomorrow. As is the tradition on Mondays, the players' families were invited to watch practice, but families weren't the only ones checking things out today; former Cougar running back Harvey Unga showed up to watch his old team (Unga didn't talk to the media) It will be interesting to see if he tries to get back into the NFL.
Every quarterback on the roster made an appearance at practice today. Jason Munns was with the quarterbacks during drills but did not throw as he continues to come back from injury. Alex Kuresa was on the sidelines during the team's scrimmage but did not participate in any way. Bronco Mendenhall said Kuresa is still being evaluated academically.
There was a lot of waiting and probably some stressful moments for BYU this week, but it was all smiles after Sunday's announcement that the Cougars would once again be in the NCAA Tournament. BYU will face Iona on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm MT in Dayton in a First Round matchup in the "First Four." The winner of Tuesday's game will take on Marquette as a 14 seed in Louisville.
BYU senior forward Noah Hartsock said he's not disappointed in playing in the "play-in" game.
"We didn't necessarily play well in our last game, and I'm sure the committee saw that and everything, but I think we deserve to be in the Tournament and I'm really glad with the spot we have right now".
The last day of the first week of BYU's spring football practices had the players donning pads for the first time, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall pronounced his satisfaction with the hard-hitting session, saying "I liked it a lot; it sounded really good."
"It was hard to keep guys on the sidelines, because they want to go in," said Mendenhall. "Guys with slings are trying to go in and hit people."
Following a day off on Wednesday, the BYU Football team was back at it on Thursday, going outside for the first time during spring drills.
The Cougars took to the Student-Athlete Building practice fields for a roughly two-hour session that concluded with 20 minutes of 11-on-11 team work, during which QB Riley Nelson led a smart touchdown drive.
In the scoring drive, Nelson was 5-for-5 passing, for 60 yards and a five-yard TD toss to WR Cody Hoffman. On the day, Nelson was 9-for-10 for 86 yards, the TD and an interception by Joe Sampson. Hoffman caught three balls for 36 yards, while RB Michael Alisa hauled in a 22-yard reception to set up the Hoffman score. James Lark was 0-for-4 passing (with a couple of drops), while third-stringer Taysom Hill did not attempt a pass.
The second day of BYU Football spring practices concluded after a 21-period, nearly two-hour helmets-only session at the IPF on Tuesday.
What followed, for the defensive players, was an extra half-hour of conditioning that consisted of nothing more than running through, around, and over blocking pads assembled on the field, with a hurdle at the end thrown in for good measure. Simple, right? Well, yes, unless the objective is for every player to do the drills perfectly, without touching the pads. Roughly 40 huffing and puffing defenders ran through those particular paces to frustration and exhaustion, until Bronco Mendenhall was satisfied.
"I'm not sure (how long it took)," said Mendenhall. "Seemed like a long time. I know that (wife) Holly is not excited with me right now, but sometimes that's one of those sacrifices you have to make," he added with a smile.
The first day of spring football at BYU was accompanied by what head coach Bronco Mendenhall called a "surprising" intensity that translated into a pair of multi-player donnybrooks inside the team's indoor practice facility in Provo.
The scraps were otherwise inconsequential, but Mendenhall said the opening day spirit was "surprising, for the first day--no pads...I think the team wants to be good."
"There were a couple of battles, a couple of confrontations," said safety Mike Hague. "It's football. Whether it's football in March or football in August, it's football. If we don't approach it (in March) the way we approach it in August, we won't get any better."
Day 1 of BYU Spring Football is in the books. As you would expect everyone was very optimistic and happy to be back playing football. As most BYU fans would do, I paid close attention to the quarterbacks.
This year's group of QB's seem to have a good chemistry together. At different times today, Riley Nelson, James Lark, Taysom Hill, Ammon Olsen and McCoy Hill all took snaps for BYU. Alex Kuresa was listed on the roster but was not in attendance at today's practice.
The first Monday in March has traditionally found the BYU Cougars preparing for a trip to Las Vegas and the start of their conference tournament. Instead, the Cougars are already home from Vegas, their tourney run done, with a lot of time on their hands before Selection Sunday.
It is time that will be filled with individual skill development sessions, a few team practices, and probably a fair share of hand wringing, while pondering the question: "did we do we do enough to make the NCAA Tournament?"
The West Coast Conference Tournament starts today in Las Vegas, on 2012's "extra" day--which is appropriate, since the WCC has actually added a couple of extra days to its annual tourney, to facilitate the league's inclusion of BYU.
Since adopting its double-bye format in 2003, the tournament has been a four-day affair, stretching from Friday through Monday, with games every night. With BYU making the WCC a nine-team league, and with the Cougars not playing on Sundays, the tournament has added a play-in game, and incorporated a Sunday "rest day," extending the tournament to six days: today through next Monday.
The tournament bracket shows what used the be the First Round now called the Second Round, in which the winner of tonight's First Round game will play on Thursday. #8 seed Portland and #9 seed Santa Clara will play for the right to join San Francisco (#5 seed), San Diego (#6 seed) and Pepperdine (#7 seed), with the two survivors of that four-team group advancing to the Friday night quarterfinals, where #3 seed BYU and #4 seed Loyola Marymount await. The top-seeded St. Mary's Gaels and second-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs are off until Saturday night's semifinals. After an off-day Sunday, the tourney will conclude March 5th.
PROVO — The West Coast Conference announced its postseason awards today. St. Mary's junior guard Matthew Dellavedova was named the 2011-2012 WCC Player of the Year.
Dellavedova led the Gaels to their first regular season conference title since 1989. Dellavedova was 3rd in the WCC in scoring with 16.4 points a game and 6th in assists with 6.6 per contest.
Two Gonzaga basketball players walked away with postseason hardware. Senior Rob Sacre earned WCC Defensive Player of the Year honors while freshman point guard Kevin Pangos was awarded the WCC Newcomer of the Year.
The West Coast Conference coaches have voted for all-conference honors, and their choices will be released on Tuesday. Unlike in the Mountain West Conference, media members do not get a vote in the all-league selections, but here's how I would have voted (note: all stats considered/referenced are for conference games only; only those stats are considered in the balloting)--
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary's: I tend to lean toward the best player on the best team, and the Aussie point guard was the engine that drove the Gaels to the school's first outright conference championship in 23 years. Dellavedova was third in WCC scoring (16.4 ppg), led the league in assists (6.6 apg), finished second in assist-to-turnover ratio, 5th in 3PFGM/gm and 7th in FT%, while leading the conference in minutes played. Not the flashiest player with with the best across-the-board numbers, but St. Mary's could not have ended Gonzaga's run atop the WCC without him.
Here are some quick hitters on the day of BYU's latest "game of the year"--a first-ever visit to Gonzaga for a crucial West Coast Conference clash--
: while Gonzaga has dominated the WCC for more than a decade, the Zags in recent years have been challenged by St. Mary's, and now, by BYU. Last season, Gonzaga shared the regular season conference crown with the Gaels, and this season, the Bulldogs are locked in a second place tie with BYU, one game behind St. Mary's. Gonzaga is on a nation's-best 11-year regular season league championship streak, but the Zags' reign as the kings of the conference is in jeopardy. Tonight's game may amount to a "last stand" of sorts for the WCC's long-standing flag-bearer.
: this will be the third meeting between these two teams in less than a year, but the first in Spokane, and from a Gonzaga perspective, it's about time. The Zags have a 102-7 record at The Kennel (McCarthey Athletic Center, officially), with only two of those losses coming to conference foes (Santa Clara in 2007 and St. Mary's in 2011). In games last year at the NCAA Tournament, and earlier this month at the Marriott Center, Gonzaga has lost to BYU by double-digits.
Heading into the 2011 college football season, of all the FBS schools BYU had yet to face in football, New Mexico State was the closest to Provo. With BYU having played the Aggies last season, that left Nebraska as "new neighbor," when it came to gridiron unfamiliarity and geographical proximity.
Well, you can cross the Cornhuskers off that list and head back to the map, because BYU today announced a one-game deal with Nebraska--the game to be played September 5th, 2015.
Here is the text of BYU's official press release:
A mixture of good and bad news greeted BYU head coach Dave Rose on Tuesday, as he assessed the playing status of hobbled starters Noah Hartsock and Matt Carlino--both of whom suffered knee injuries in road wins last week.
The good news was that MRIs of both players' injured knees came back clear of structural damage, and Carlino was able to take part in Tuesday's practice at full speed, without the brace he used during Saturday's game at Santa Clara.
The bad news was Hartsock's inability to practice on a knee that was sleeved and braced, allowing him to do some shooting on the side and take free throws with the team, but otherwise preventing him from doing much of anything else.
This column would be exponentially easier to write after Thursday's West Coast Conference games, but since there is no time like the present for speculation and postulation, let's get into the WCC's tie-breaking and seeding scenarios for the league's title chase and upcoming tournament, then focus on the possibilities for BYU heading into the regular season's final week.
First things first, and that would be the WCC protocol for breaking ties. It reads as follows, and will serve as a handy reference moving forward:
BYU is 5-0 in the games of February 2012, which will come as little surprise to those who have followed Dave Rose-coached teams through the most important regular season month of the college basketball year.
In his seventh season as BYU's head coach, Rose has compiled a 41-6 record in February, for a sizzling win rate of 87.2%, a percentage surpassing his already stellar career record of 182-51 (78.1%). When the games matter most, Rose's Cougars are most often at their best.
Rose's February success and five consecutive NCAA Tournament berths are closely correlated, and if BYU is to qualify for a sixth straight Dance bid, the Cougars' stretch run will again have played a significant part.
BYU's two-game Bay Area road swing resulted in considerable benefit: two wins that extended the Cougars win streak to five games and their road win streak to seven games, keeping BYU in the mix for a West Coast Conference regular season championship.
The victories at San Francisco and Santa Clara also came with a potentially significant cost: knee injuries suffered by leading scorer Noah Hartsock and third-leading scorer Matt Carlino.
The BYU Cougar hoopsters open a key three-game conference road swing with back-to-back Bay Area contests this week, starting Thursday at San Francisco.
Following his team's Tuesday afternoon practice at the Marriott Center, head coach Dave Rose previewed his team's upcoming duel with the Dons, saying that he expects to see a "completely different team" from the one BYU dismantled 81-56 last month in Provo, "as far as their confidence level, their execution offensively; they're really comfortable with how they are playing."
"They remind me a lot of how they were playing last year, at the end of the season," said Rose. "They've won seven of their last nine games...so we'll look forward to quite a test here."
BYU released its long-awaited 2012 football schedule on Monday, with Athletic Director Tom Holmoe calling it "a good schedule...better than it was last year"--the first season of the school's football independence.
Holmoe said there was a relative delay in the release of the schedule (the 2011 schedule was released on Dec. 8, 2010) as BYU explored late changes. "We had the possibility of getting a game that would have changed things, and we would have had to move a couple of things around," said Holmoe in a teleconference with reporters after the schedule announcement.
"We actually did move some dates around with the WAC teams; they were very helpful. It would have been to our benefit to move (the Notre Dame) game into another slot, and Notre Dame was considering it, but it just didn't end up in our best interest, so we agreed upon the original date."
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