Cougar Bounces: Utah

PROVO, Utah – The BYU student section chanted "Just Like Football" in the waning minutes of the Cougars' 85-62 thumping of Utah, although this win was not a nail biter. With the victory, BYU earned its first outright conference championship since 1988. In fact, it was the first time since 1980 that football and basketball both won an out-right conference championship.

BYU honored six seniors before the game a part of the senior night festivities. Derek Dawes, who did not play this year, Fernando Malaman, Mike Rose, Jimmy Balderson, Austin Ainge and Keena Young were all met with thunderous applause from the sell-out crowd.

Once the game started, it took a while for the pre-game excitement to wear off. Utah played tough early, kept it close and even took the lead a few times. BYU, however, took control late in the half. They ended the first half on a 20-6 run and never looked back.

The Cougars shot 69-percent in the second half as they stretched the lead to as many as 29 before settling on the final margin. Four Cougars were in double figures. Young and Sam Burgess shared the team-high with 15. Trent Plaisted scored 13 and Ainge had 11 in his final home game.

The dominant victory marked the first time since 1994 that BYU swept the season series with the Utes. It was also their largest margin of victory since a 96-65 win that same year.

The Cougars will now head to Las Vegas, where they will be the No. 1 seed in the MWC Tournament. They will take on the winner of the New Mexico/TCU play-in game on Tuesday. That game will tip at noon PST on Thursday and can be seen on the mtn.

GRADES

Point: A. In his final game in the Marriott Center Ainge continued his strong play. He played in control and even made a few circus shots. BYU got seven assists from the point position.

Wing: A. There were big three pointers by Rose and Balderson. There were huge blocks by Burgess. There was just good all-around play by the two and three spots. They dove for loose balls. They grabbed offensive rebounds. They defended the perimeter. They played 40 minutes of excellent basketball.

Post: A. Every basket by Young was followed by "MVP! MVP!" from the crowd. Plaisted was aggressive on offense against Nevill. He took the ball right at Nevill and drew fouls on him. Plaisted also outplayed him for the first time in five meetings.

Coach: A. BYU had already locked up the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, but Coach Dave Rose got his team wanting it all. He calmed down the troops after a rocky start. He also got all his seniors minutes and properly honored them before the game.

Spiff's Observations

- Even though the point is moot, because BYU won, it was good to see the senior celebration happen before the game.

- Mike Hall was in attendance. He proposed to his fiancé during the first half. It was on the big screen as he got on one knee and pulled out a ring. By the kiss she gave him, the answered was in the affirmative.

- After struggling from behind the arc towards the end of conference play, BYU seems to have found their stroke again. They started the game 0-for-5 but finished 9-for-16.

- With the late-season collapse of Air Force, it is possible that Coach Rose could win MWC Coach of the Year again.

- Keena Young has a very strong case for MWC Player of the Year as well. It's a simple and, to me, convincing argument: He is the best player on the best team.

- Jonathan Tavernari also has a strong case to be MWC Freshman of the Year. He is the league's highest scoring freshman. If Lee Cummard can pull the upset of Joel Anthony of UNLV, it is conceivable that BYU could sweep the post-season awards.

- With SDSU's win, they clinched the three seed, meaning the two most athletic teams in the conference (SDSU and UNLV) will be in the opposite side of the bracket from BYU. -

- If BYU can win the tournament, they'll be 26-7 and highly ranked in both the polls (Top 20) and RPI (currently 18). That could earn them as high as a No. 4 seed in the NCAAs. -

- It's been a great year for Cougar fan.

- BYU recruit Provo's Chris Collinsworth had 27 points and nine rebounds in the State Championship. Provo won the title.

- Final MWC Standings:
o BYU – 23-7 (13-3)
o UNLV – 25-6 (12-4)
o Air Force #20 – 23-7 (10-6)
o San Diego St – 21-9 (10-6)
o Wyoming – 16-14 (7-9)
o Colorado St – 16-12 (6-10)
o Utah – 11-18 (6-10)
o New Mexico – 15-16 (4-12)
o TCU – 12-16 (4-12)


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