Last reg. season game

BYU Hoops: Cougs, USD have a lot to play for despite different situations

2014-02-27T17:45:00Z 2014-03-20T21:00:03Z BYU Hoops: Cougs, USD have a lot to play for despite different situationsJason Franchuk - Daily Herald Daily Herald
February 27, 2014 5:45 pm  • 

Certainly, there are college basketball followers that don't like the idea of a conference tournament, when a 72-hour hot hand can reach the NCAA Tournament — and perhaps steal a bid from a team that accomplished more over the long stretch of the season.

But the fact remains — in the West Coast Conference and around the country — most teams are still playing for something.

Such is the case with BYU visiting San Diego to finish the regular season Saturday afternoon.

The Cougars and their fans know what's at stake: Trying to expand a three-game winning streak, and increase the odds of an NCAA at-large bid.

"We're coming into this game like we come into any other game. This game is just as important to win, whether it's in March or it's the beginning of the year," BYU guard Anson Winder said. "We're going to come into this game knowing we have to win."

For San Diego, the season hasn't been the same success. But a win does get them a top-6 place in the WCC, and would ultimately earn the Toreros a first-round bye in the tournament that starts next week in Las Vegas.

"I just told the guys, 'here's where we're at'," USD coach Bill Grier explained to the Daily Herald on Wednesday. "'You guys decide what you want.' But we have to get it done out on the floor."

Translation: USD is one of those tricky teams that could make life difficult in a couple of ways for a variety of WCC teams, including the Cougars.

Following up a win against then-ranked, first-place Gonzaga last week with one against second-place BYU wouldn't put the Toreros (16-14, 7-10 WCC) suddenly on the bubble watch.

But it would make for an angst-filled week or two for BYU (20-10, 12-5). The Cougars need every win they can get with a possibility of four games left, counting the regular-season finale at USD and a potential of three WCC tournament games.

For USD, a win against BYU would cut a game off what would be required of USD to get into the NCAA Tournament like it did in 2008 — Grier's first year when the program ultimately was a low seed, traveled across the country to Florida but defeated UConn in the first round.

Grier knows what it takes to get hot this year, between that season and his long service as an assistant at Gonzaga during its rise to fame.

"You want to get focused, get confident, try and keep your players' energy levels up," Grier said.

He acknowledged that beating BYU, with the new tournament format ahead (because of the addition of 10th member Pacific), would be highly valuable.

USD has all the parts to make a three-game run, starting in the March 8 quarterfinals. Solid post players. An ability to control tempo, if it plays aggressively on loose balls and is strong on defense. Johnny Dee, bound to become the school's all-time best scorer, is a game-changer from the 3-point line.

Just ask Gonzaga, or even the Cougars, who lost 2-of-3 meetings last year to virtually the same team.

BYU won the first meeting this year, 87-53, on Jan. 4. The Cougars were trying to end a four-game losing streak that included the first two games of league play on the road.

"There was no way BYU was losing that game," Grier said, laughing.

But now? Both teams have improved. Grier said it'll be important for his team to do a better job against Kyle Collinsworth, the returned missionary who caused USD all sorts of problems.

The 6-foot-7 point guard made 5-of-6 shots (12 points) along with eight assists and seven rebounds.

"Really, how many point guards lead their teams in offensive rebounds?" Grier said. "I hope that us seeing him once helps us adjust better."

Collinsworth is actually third with 71, behind post players Nate Austin (77) and Eric Mika (76), but his point is taken.

Besides Collinsworth, there's a lot of familiarity between the two teams that play contrasting styles.

"They're probably playing some of their best basketball right now," Grier said. "We feel like we are, too."

-- Jason Franchuk covers primarily BYU football and basketball for the Daily Herald. You can connect with him by email at or by following him on Twitter at

Read more from  Jason Franchuk here.

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