"No seniors"

BYU Hoops: Unique roster set to try and make this last Marriott Center game for season

2014-02-21T17:00:00Z 2014-03-20T21:00:03Z BYU Hoops: Unique roster set to try and make this last Marriott Center game for seasonJason Franchuk - Daily Herald Daily Herald
February 21, 2014 5:00 pm  • 

For the first time that Dave Rose can recall, having been in Provo since 1997, BYU won't have a senior to celebrate in the Cougars' final regular-season home game Saturday.

There may be something different to honor at the Marriott Center, though: Youth that's basically just hung in there.

It's a 7 p.m. rematch with Portland, which used career-defining performances from forward Thomas van der Mars and reserve guard Bobby Sharp to up-end BYU in triple-overtime Jan. 23.

Rose's squad — featuring a handful of freshman, a freshly returned missionary and a variety of significant tinkering through the starting lineup as recently as Thursday night —refused to let that defeat define them.

Same with a host of other issues and losses, as the Cougars have been steady enough to have a sincere chance at finishing in second place in the West Coast Conference with two regular-season games left.

"We're trusting each other more," BYU guard Anson Winder said after he symbolized his team's rotation creativity and togetherness with a rare start that elicited a team-high 17 points against Gonzaga on Thursday. "We're just making sure we compete every play, and just sticking together."

BYU is hardly out of the metaphorical woods. It would seem that the good deeds done by winning at Saint Mary's and ousting GU at home in a six-day span — after seemingly being in dire shape after losing at Pacific last Thursday — would be undone by losing to either the Pilots or next Saturday against San Diego.

But remember, this was a team that once faced an 8-7 record — coach Dave Rose's worst start in his nine years.

That was at the end of a four-game losing steak, which included the first two tries (both on the road) in West Coast Conference play.

BYU is 11-3 since the nadir of the Rose-coached tenure of nine years.

BYU had finished third place in the past two years of the WCC. This wasn't looking any better.

BYU could still finish third if it falls apart, and flourishing San Francisco continues its unanticipated stride with a second consecutive year using an overhauled roster.

Rose smiled and said the GU game was a "really fun" one to be a part of.

"To see guys out there, leaving it all out there for the team," he said, and it was meant as a compliment to both teams.

But the first-place Bulldogs, who are still likely to win a league crown (needing just one win in their final three games; first chance Saturday at San Diego), weren't happy with their competitive level with a chance to seal up the title in Provo.

GU shot 4-of-18 from 3-point range in a markedly different game from the first meeting.

"We did a way better job this time staying around with shooters," Rose said.

The Cougars can't let up against Portland. They went to the Pacific Northwest on a four-game winning streak, then squandered a lead in the second overtime.

It was a defeat that threatened to pull the Cougars apart...again.

BYU's allowed some significant career-best nights, but none more insulting and mystifying perhaps than UP's. The Pilots are a 15-12 squad (7-8 WCC) that found some home-court lightning against both Gonzaga and the Cougars.

Sharp was 8-of-13 against BYU from 3-point range, scoring 27 points. The 6-foot-2 junior-college transfer has made 12 shots from the arc in 32 tries in the next seven games, and only 53 points.

Van der Mars has potential as a 6-11 junior, but he exceeded his limits against the Cougars as well. He's followed up his 27-and-18 by averaging a hit-and-miss 12 points, six rebounds.

The obvious word for BYU is redemption. But it's also about the unspoken one of making sure this is the last game in Provo this year.

BYU's had to play with a year-long tension of not wanting to be placed in the NIT again, no matter how much fun April in New York City happened to be last year.

It'll be a chance for BYU fans to potentially see this group for a final time, one of the more charismatic squads Rose has fielded. It did a first-ever preseason party (Boomshakalaka) to show off the athleticism in October, and has done a variety of popular lip-syncing music videos.

And it's for the most part a team that the fan base can really grow to love. Most of it will return.

After this year, freshman center Eric Mika will be in Italy for the next two performing church service. The Cougars will have six seniors next year: Tyler Haws, Nate Austin, Matt Carlino, Skyler Halford, Josh Sharp and Winder.

It's not time to exactly pay tribute to this year, but Rose sounds like he's enjoying the journey despite some extreme highs and lows.

"I do believe that the experiences we had early in the year, as a group, has put us in some really tough situations that we had to respond to," Rose said. "The response at times was really good effort, but not a lot of success. And then we had to come out and play again, rely on each other.

"We've been through that quite a few times. If that (the Gonzaga game) had been maybe our first or second time of trying to deal with that adversity, I don't know how we would have responded. But these guys, they're bonded together. They're bonded through the rigors of this season. The last two games, that's really paid off."

BYU (19-10, 11-5 West Coast Conference) vs. Portland (15-12, 7-8)

7 p.m., Marriott Center

Radio: KSL 1160 AM (102.7 FM)

TV: BYUtv

Tip-ins: BYU is 9-1 in the series, including 4-1 as a WCC member. The Cougars lost, 114-110 in triple OT at Portland on Jan. 23. ...UP lost at San Diego, 61-59, on Thursday; Bobby Sharp, who had 27 against BYU the first time, had his best game since: 16 points. ...Leading scorer Kevin Bailey (16.5 ppg) has missed the last 3 games with a calf injury. ...After this only 1 regular-season game remains for BYU: Saturday at San Diego.

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

Read more from  Jason Franchuk here.

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