By Rebecca Lane and Steven Potter
BYU’s late-season run got the Cougars into what coaches and fans have come to expect — a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
What isn’t so familiar is their opponent. The Cougars have never faced the Ole Miss Rebels, regular season or postseason.
BYU (25–9) boasts the nation’s fourth-ranked scorer Tyler Haws who leads the nation’s second-ranked scoring offense. Defenses have struggled to stop BYU’s prolific scoring. The Cougars have also a jack-of-all trades point guard in Kyle Collinsworth, who, at 6-6 and 210 pounds, sits on a throne of triple-doubles.
Nine games ago, it seemed all but destiny for the Cougars to end up in the NIT or another lesser tournament. But a renewed sense of urgency catapulted them into the conversation and a bid as a “Last Four In.”
BYU senior Tyler Haws told BYU Sports Nation that he credits the shift after BYU’s second loss to Pepperdine to the team gaining more edge and focus from game start to finish.
“I thought our last 10 games we played as hard as we could for 40 minutes straight, especially on the defensive end,” Haws said. “I think we’re rebounding the ball a lot better than we were at the beginning of the year.”
Ole Miss (20–12) features an offense that scores roughly 72 points per game. Junior guard Stefan Moody leads the Rebels scorers with 16.3 points per game. Ole Miss gave undefeated Kentucky all it could handle during the regular season, as the Rebels lost in overtime.
[pullquote]”BYU has weapons all over the court: they are older, they’re more experienced and unafraid, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them in the Sweet 16 against Arizona. That’s what I have on my bracket and that’s when BYU finally goes out because finally they will challenge them defensively enough to send them home.” —Joe Lunardi, ESPN bracketologist[/pullquote]
Some may think this will be a cake-walk for the Cougars: an exhibition game en route to the “real” tournament and a date with No. 6 Xavier in Jacksonville, Florida. Others believe the Cougars will have to be on top of their game to move forward.
ESPN bracket0logist Joe Lunardi said he is excited to see BYU in the tournament and believes the Cougars deserve to not only be there, but should beat some teams down the stretch.
“BYU has weapons all over the court: they are older, they’re more experienced and unafraid, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them in the Sweet 16 against Arizona,” Lunardi said. “That’s what I have on my bracket and that’s when BYU finally goes out because finally they will challenge them defensively enough to send them home.”
Although the Cougars most recently came off a loss in the West Coast Conference Tournament against Gonzaga, who snagged a No. 2 seed in South region, they have an eight-game winning streak building momentum into the tournament. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has lost five of their last eight games.
The Cougars take on the Ole Miss at 7:10 p.m. MST on Tuesday, March 17, in Dayton, Ohio. The game will be broadcast on truTV.