BYU, Iona Battle In NCAA Tournament 2012 First Four Play-In Game To Face Marquette
BY LYNN DeBRUIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Brigham Young coach Dave Rose said his Cougars deserved to be in the NCAA tournament, even after last week's 19-point loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals.
The selection committee agreed, and the Cougars (25-8) will face Iona (25-7) as No. 14 seeds in a game Tuesday in Dayton as part of the First Four.
The winner of the BYU-Iona contest will face No. 3 Marquette on Thursday in Louisville in the East Region.
BYU advanced to the round of 16 last year with point guard Jimmer Fredette, the national player of the year.
The Cougars don't have Fredette anymore but back is 6-9 junior forward Brandon Davies, who missed March Madness last year after being booted from the team for an honor code violation.
The Cougars also are hungry after not knowing if the last loss was a costly one.
"It was quite a long wait since our game on Saturday," Rose said of BYU's March 3 loss to Gonzaga. "But it turned out great. We're really excited to be in and excited to keep playing."
This will be BYU's school-record sixth straight NCAA tourney appearance, 27th overall and ninth in the last 12 years.
The Cougars lost eight times this season but six of those losses came to NCAA-tournament teams — twice to Gonzaga and Saint Mary's and once each to highly ranked Wisconsin and Baylor squads.
Still, even with their sixth straight 25-win season, players acknowledged there were tense moments awaiting word on Selection Sunday.
"Usually we're watching to find out who we're playing," swingman Charles Abouo told the media gathered at the BYU Broadcast Building, where the team watched the brackets revealed. "This time it's a little different. This year we were watching to see if we'd get in. It's going to be real exciting. It will be good to get to play again."
Senior Noah Hartsock, who has been slowed by a knee injury in recent losses to Gonzaga, was relieved.
"We deserve to be in the NCAAs," said Hartsock, who leads the team with a 16.7 scoring average. "I'm glad with the spot we have. You saw a lot of teams that were left out, a lot of disappointed teams. We're glad to be in."
Both coaches acknowledged they would get little sleep Sunday night because of film study and travel planning.
"Everything feels exactly the same except it's sped up a little bit," Rose said. "If you don't win, you've got to come home."
Last year the Cougars were a No. 3 seed, beating unheralded Wofford and crushing Gonzaga to advance to the Round of 16 for the first time since 1981.
They lost in overtime to Florida, with Davies forced to watch from the bench in street clothes.
He eventually left school after the season, was reinstated and rejoined the team, and is averaging 15 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Replacing Fredette is freshman Matt Carlino, who sat out last season after transferring from UCLA.
Iona coach Tim Cluess acknowledged he knows little about BYU's team this year but certainly remembers what Fredette did last year for them.
"I was a big fan last year and the year before," Cluess said on a conference call. "This year I won't be quite as big a fan."