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BYU basketball prepared to make best of NIT experience

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BYU's basketball team huddles together during a game at the Marriott Center. (Photo by Rebecca Lane)

BYU’s basketball team huddles together during a game at the Marriott Center. (Photo by Rebecca Lane)

The BYU basketball team is the first to admit that they didn’t want to be in the National Invitation Tournament — but they are going to make the best of it.

“It’s no secret, the NIT’s not your first goal but we still have some more games to play,” said BYU senior Nate Austin. “Even though we didn’t fulfill our goals, … I think for our team the only way for us to fail is if we stop playing hard, if we stop giving good effort, if we lose that motivation to play. If our team can stay together and play strong and compete in these games and win this championship in the NIT, to me that’s a successful season.”

Austin is one of two players — along with senior Kyle Collinsworth — who have previously played in the NIT. While teammates Chase Fischer and Jamaal Aytes were on the team, they were redshirts during the 2013 season because of NCAA transfer rules. In BYU’s 2013 NIT run, Austin said the team adopted a motto that BYU is holding true for this season: “We’ve got one game left together so let’s play as long together as we can.”

When the Cougars lost in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference to Gonzaga, they new their NCAA Tournament dreams were over. The team didn’t even watch Selection Sunday together, but spent the day watching the program alone at their homes, according to senior captain Chase Fischer. However, disappointment has given way to purpose now that the team has a team to prepare for and a game to play. Plus, the NIT has a deep bracket with 15 automatic qualifiers.

“It’s no secret, the NIT’s not your first goal but we still have some more games to play. Even though we didn’t fulfill our goals, … I think for our team the only way for us to fail is if we stop playing hard, if we stop giving good effort, if we lose that motivation to play.” —Nate Austin, BYU senior forward

“As a college basketball player, especially for me being a senior, it’s always good to get to play more games with this team,” Fischer said. “All the guys on this team have the same mindset that we love each other. Things didn’t work out as we wanted them to, but that’s life. We get to keep playing, we get to play at home, we get to play really good teams and we’re on ESPN, so there’s not much you can complain about. Everybody is sad that we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, but that’s life. You’ve got to move on and we have a great challenge ahead of us, so just the fact that we get to play again is awesome.”

Now the Cougars will play the University of Alabama at Birmingham (26–6) on Wednesday night in the Marriott Center at 8 p.m. MDT. And BYU coach Dave Rose expects it to be a good matchup. Rose pointed out that of the last 23 games, No. 7 seed UAB has won 20 of them. While UAB is a young team, Rose said they are a “long, athletic, good shooting team with a really steady, smart point guard” that reminds him of some of the Vegas teams BYU used to play.

“One of the things as a coach that you look forward to is how your team reacts out of your league grind,” Rose said. “You’ve just gone through an 18-game league grind and the conference tournament, which is two sometimes three games playing the same teams that know you, you know them, and now you get released from that back into the free world of basketball again and see how your team responds to that.”

If BYU wins against UAB, they will play the winner of the No. 3 seed Virginia Tech and No. 6 seed Princeton in the second round. Fellow West Coast Conference team Saint Mary’s received a No. 2 seed. Assuming both teams win and progress, the two teams wouldn’t meet until the semifinals in the NIT.

The game against UAB will be televised on ESPNU on Wednesday at 8 p.m. MDT.

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