Cougar Bounces: Xavier

Just like last season, BYU's 2006-2007 campaign ended with back-to-back losses. The losses this year came on a bigger stage (MWC tournament championship game and the NCAA Tournament first round versus the first rounds of the MWC tourney and the NIT) and, consequently, are tougher to swallow, particularly for the five Cougars seniors who will not get a chance to redeem themselves.

After 24 hours of mourning, I am finally ready to talk about BYU's 79-77 loss to Xavier. I have not spoken one word about this game since it ended. I turned off my cell phone midway through the second half. I did not want to talk to anyone. I did not want to take my father's inevitable phone call, asking why and how BYU lost.

I just wanted to brood and simmer over this loss. I did not want explain this game away. I just wanted to be angry. Nothing would be allowed to change my mood.

For some reason, this game has really upset me. Maybe it was the way BYU could not pull away from the Musketeers. I did not want to get into chat and be asked if the Cougars will ever win an NCAA tournament game. I needed time to wallow in my own misery.

In those 24-hours of mourning, I have yet to determine why this game bothered me more than any game in recent memory. Maybe it was BYU's inability to control the glass against a smaller team. Perhaps it was the officiating that saw Xavier shoot free throws the final 14:37 of the game, while the Cougars were still fouls away from the bonus. Maybe it was how the Musketeers were able to make 10 more free throws than BYU took.

Or it could have been BYU's inability to either 1) get open shots or 2) make them. The Cougars ten assists, were the fewest since the Boise State loss back in December, is proof that offense just was not running as crisply as it had for most of the season.

Sure, there were some bright spots. Mike Rose hit five three-pointers in his final game. Keena Young scored 24 points with 16 coming in the second half. It was the 11th time he had at least 20.

But in the end, it just was not enough. Maybe deep down, I did not believe BYU would win. I had just convinced myself they would and I was simply angry when I caught myself lying. It just was not the way I had anticipated the season ending. Well, at least spring football starts on Monday.


Point: C+. Austin Ainge had a pretty good first half. He scored 10 points and helped the Cougars take a six-point lead to the half. But he finished with 12 and his defensive liability was on full display in the second as Xavier point guard Drew Lavender went to the hoop at will and controlled the final 15 minutes of the game. Ainge missed 10 shots, 4-of-14 just won't cut it in the Big Dance.

Wing: B. If Mike Rose doesn't come off the bench to hit those five threes then this grade would be at least a half-step lower. Although, it should be noted that Sam Burgess also came of the bench to grab five rebounds in the first half. Lee Cummard, who was invisible offensively (with just five points and one offensive rebound), did play good defense in holding one of Xavier's leading scorer to 0-for-4 shooting and zero points.

Post: B-. In the biggest game of the year, Trent Plaisted was at his smallest. He had three inches on nearly every Musketeer, yet he could manage just five rebounds. That was just one rebound more than Lavender, and Plaisted had 16-inches on him. Young was solid as always, but even he shot poorly going 10-for-23. In a close game, BYU just couldn't find enough toughness in the post.

Coach: C+. There has been some talk about Coach Dave Rose going to a zone too often. I did not think the zone defense did in BYU. I though the staff had the team ready to play and had Xavier well scouted. I did think they could have gotten after the officials more and tried to get a few more calls. With as close as the refs were calling things, I would have liked to have seen BYU attack the rim a little more. But then, the Cougars aren't really a penetrating team. I do think that Coach Rose has the program going in the right direction, he just needs to start adding some post-season wins and, perhaps, enlist the help of a sports psychologist to develop the Cougars' mental toughness and killer instinct

Spiff's Observations

- There was a lot of talk about BYU's free throw shooting coming into the game. It was not was cost them this game. They were a very respectable 10-for-13 from the line. The problem was, in their last two games, both of which were close, BYU did not shoot enough of them. They shot 13 against Xavier and just 17 against UNLV. BYU must improve next year at getting to the line.

- BYU should take some solace in Xavier's performance against Ohio State. For 38 minutes, the Cougars played the Musketeers as well or better than the No. 1 team in the country. BYU's seeding may have been accurate, but it appears that Xavier was better than a nine seed, especially sixty miles away from its campus. The Cougars still have not caught a break from the selection committee.

- The last several years, BYU opponents have taken more free throws than the Cougars. Good teams that win in the NCAAs are the opposite. They take many more free throws than their opponents.

- Plaisted is soft. There, I said it. He simply does not have the toughness nor confidence to be The Man. His struggles at the free throw line are a case in point. His offensive game is getting better and more diverse, but he is not consistent enough with his moves. He is also not strong enough. Maybe Coach Rose should allow Plaisted, who reportedly runs a 4.6 forty, to work out with the football team this off-season. The physicality could do BYU's big man some good.

- Plaisted also is not explosive. He is very athletic and has a freakish vertical, but he cannot create his own energy. He's very good at transferring his horizontal momentum to vertical height, but his vertical reach is not very explosive when he does not have a head start.

- There were five references to Austin being Danny's son. Four of them in the first half. And Danny's coast-to-coast lay-up against Notre Dame was shown once.

- Cummard must be more involved offensively. He is a good shooter, and I think he has the ability to get to the rim. He needs to be a factor on more than the defensive end. Then again, if he is compared to a mini-Kirilenko…

- BYU will severely miss Young. He was the only one-on-one player BYU had this year. That one-on-one role will be up for grabs next year. Hopefully, someone can claim it.

- Currently, BYU is a good team in an average conference. Until they start winning meaningful games outside of the conference, they will not earn the respect many in its fan base feel it "deserves." Without meaningful out-of-conference wins and victories in the NCAA tournament, the Cougars will continue getting poor seeds and be viewed as an afterthought in college basketball.

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