PROVO — BYU coach Dave Rose remembers the disappointment he and his players and staff felt in locker rooms this season after the Cougars dropped close games to ranked teams during the non-conference portion of the schedule.
But on Selection Sunday, the payoff for playing an arduous schedule came. In an instant, elation replaced disappointment — and doubt.
BYU received a higher-than-expected No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 Oregon at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis., Thursday (approximately 1:10 p.m., MDT, truTV) in the NCAA tournament’s second round.
"I just believe these guys went through a really difficult schedule in the non-conference," Rose said. "I’m really glad to see they were rewarded for it.”
Though the Cougars (23-11) lost their share of those big non-conference games — including one at Oregon (23-9) in December — that factor apparently played a big role in earning a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Many bracketologists had projected BYU to be on the bubble, figuring that if it got into the Big Dance, it would be dispatched to Dayton for the First Four.
For the first time, Rose said, he monitored what the bracketologists were projecting, as well as games that could impact the Cougars making the Field of 68, this past week.
“You listen to everybody and it kind of seemed pretty consistent that we were going to be in the last team in and we were going to end up in Dayton,” Rose said. “I was really just hoping that was true. To see how it turned out, we were really excited.”
In the Ducks of the Pac-12, the Cougars will be facing one of those teams they lost to earlier this season. BYU suffered a heartbreaking 100-96 overtime decision to then-No. 13 ranked Oregon in Eugene after squandering a late lead.
Besides Oregon, the NCAA tournament teams BYU played this year include No. 1 seed Wichita State, No. 3 Iowa State, No. 6 UMass, No. 7 Texas, No. 8 Gonzaga and No. 10 Stanford.
Guard Tyler Haws acknowledged that BYU’s strength of schedule helped his team get into the Big Dance.
“We took a big challenge in our preseason to go out and play people,” Haws said. “That’s a big tribute to the coaches for putting together a great schedule. I think we had some big wins late in the season and we’re playing our best basketball right now.”
The Cougars gathered at Rose’s house to watch the Selection Show Sunday afternoon to learn their postseason fate.
“Everyone was kind of antsy. Not a lot of talking,” Haws said. “(Rose) has a little theater room. We were all in there watching. Everyone was like, ‘this could be us.’ We saw each one of those get filled up. So we were kind of sweating a little bit. When we saw our name called, it was a big relief for everyone. Everyone went crazy. We’re just really excited.”
“I almost passed out,” freshman Eric Mika said of the celebration. “I was jumping around and the room got really hot really fast. I had to sit down after a little bit. It was fun and exciting.”
BYU lost to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament championship last Tuesday, then found out that guard Kyle Collinsworth would be out for the season with a knee injury.
That made for an anxious week for the Cougars.
‘’It’s kind of been a crazy few days. You’re just waiting, not knowing what was going to happen,” Haws said. “But we were pretty confident that we were going to get in. We’re really excited and we’re looking forward to a great opportunity.”
Guard Matt Carlino said he spent the past week "catching up on school work, trying to rest, trying not to think about (the NCAA tournament projections) too much because it will stress you out a little bit. I was watching basketball the whole time, so you can’t help but watch the bracketology stuff I’m not really surprised (about receiving a No. 10 seed). Until the brackets are set, no one knows.”
Now that his team is in the NCAA tournament, Rose knows there's a lot of work to do before Thursday's rematch with Oregon.
“We’re thrilled. It’s a good day. Once you get past the emotion and excitement of being in the tournament, you get pretty hard (preparation) with your opponent. We’re familiar with our opponent," Rose said. “I remember that locker room in Eugene right before Christmas. The disappointment. Our guys had a lead late and kind of let it get away and we lost in overtime. For a lot of reasons, I think our guys will be really excited to play in this tournament against Oregon.”
NOTES: BYU freshman Luke Worthington and director of basketball operations Cody Fueger both hail from the Milwaukee area This will mark BYU’s 28th NCAA appearance The Cougars have gone to the Big Dance in seven of the last eight seasons.