Cougars eager for time to shine

When the Cougars begin postseason play on Friday against either Pepperdine or San Diego, they will do so with a number of players that didn't participate during last year's postseason. One such player – midyear transfer Matt Carlino – was redshirting, while another – Brandon Davies – had just been suspended. This year, however, they will get their shot to lead BYU to postseason glory.

"Oh yeah, I'm really excited," said Matt Carlino with a smile about playing in his first ever college postseason. "I'm ecstatic, so it's going to be really fun. I'm really excited, really motivated, and all of the above."

While the Cougars are no stranger to playing conference tournaments in Las Vegas, switching to the West Coast Conference has insured that BYU will finally get to play on a truly neutral court instead of UNLV's Thomas and Mack Center. In the five years since the Mountain West Conference Tournament moved back to Las Vegas, BYU played the Rebels on their home court during the postseason three times. The Cougars lost all three times.

The WCC Tournament, meanwhile, is held at the Orleans Arena. The Cougars last played there two seasons ago, defeating Nevada and Nebraska to win the Las Vegas Classic.

"It's gonna be great," said Davies about playing in the Orleans Arena. "We've played there before, we like the arena, we like how we've played in there and stuff, and we have a great fan base too so … we're gonna have a lot of our fans there."

A total of six Cougars will be participating in their first ever collegiate postseason: Carlino and fellow freshmen Anson Winder, Nate Austin, Damarcus Harrison and Josh Sharp, as well as junior Craig Cusick.

"We're excited for this all being our first postseason playing together, and we just look forward to really maturing as a group," said Carlino.

In addition, Davies – a junior – will be playing in his first postseason since his freshman year. Last year, he was suspended with two games left in the regular season for violating the school's honor code.

Watching his team from the bench during the most important time of the season wasn't easy for Davies.

"It was difficult, but I'm past that," he said. "I'm in a good place now, and all I can do is play my best now, now that I have the chance to play."

This conference tournament is especially important for BYU, as the Cougars – unlike the past five seasons – are a bubble team that isn't a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

A loss to the winner between Pepperdine and San Diego would be disastrous, while it is up for debate whether a victory over Gonzaga in the next round is necessary to punch BYU's ticket to the big dance. At the very least, it would allow the Cougars to breathe much easier if they are unable to win the WCC Tournament and get the league's automatic bid.

"We have a lot to prove, definitely," said Davies. "We fell short of our first goal – winning the conference championship – and now [in the tournament] you're gonna see a team that's playing like … that's our goal, that's all we're trying to do now."

A win on Friday would send the Cougars to take on Gonzaga on Saturday, and a win in that game would send BYU to the championship game on Monday. Playing multiple games in multiple days will test the Cougars physically, especially with a number of them trying to overcome injuries. Leading scorer Noah Hartsock is a game-time decision on Friday as he deals with a sore knee, while Stephen Rogers has played very sparingly since undergoing knee surgery earlier in the season.

"[Fatigue] does play a factor, but we have great trainers that help us out," said Davies. "We have a lot of guys that are in shape, and we'll battle through it.

"We like playing back to back games, I personally do," he continued with a smile. "I don't like really sitting around. I'd rather play games like that just to get things going, and having back to back games is fun to me, and I know [for] a lot of the guys on the team it's that way too."

Meanwhile, Carlino has also been dealing with a sore knee, but indicated that he is fine for the WCC Tournament.

"I feel good," he said. "My knees feel good. This week having to prepare for the tournament I think has been good for our team, so we're just really excited to start the postseason and just excited to get after it.

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