IF YOU'RE GOING to Provo tonight for the BYU-San Diego State basketball game, you may want to bring along a Pick-Me-Up bouquet for the Cougars. Get them something in bright spring colors. Fill up a helium balloon that says, "Just Thinking of You" one one side and "Luv Ya Bunches" on the other. Hand-deliver a greeting card that says, "Heard You Were Under the Weather."
Unwrap a Whitman's Sampler or hire a singing telegram. Invite them to Snelgrove's for ice cream after the game or rent a copy of "Blazing Saddles" to get them in a good mood. Tell them they're the greatest, and that you're sticking by them even in the worst of times. Tell them you'll be there when they need you.Tell them you love them, warts and all.
These aren't good times for BYU basketball. It isn't that the Cougars are dying, they just aren't all that well. They've fallen and they can't get up. They're struggling with their self-confidence. They're dealing with some Generation X-type angst, wondering what to do with the rest of their season.
To their credit, they rallied to win one out of two games on the other side of the Rockies last week, beating Wyoming at Laramie. Still, they're having an unusual season. With a 7-6 WAC record (13-9 overall), they're learning to live with being mediocre. Having the kind of season you'll only see in Provo if you live there for a decade or so, or become a professional student.
Losing basketball games, of course, isn't well received at BYU. This is a program that has won 1,319 games in its history and lost only 811. Normally, you can count on two things at BYU: a run at the WAC title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The last time the Cougars floundered as badly was in 1989 when they finished 14-15. The unspectacular year convinced coach Ladell Andersen to retire.
In its entire 92-year basketball history, BYU has had only 18 losing seasons. But if it weren't for Cal State Northridge, Louisiana Tech, Morgan State, Hawaii and UTEP on the schedule, the Cougars would be in danger of finishing below .500 this season.
Recent years have been typically successful for the Cougars. Since Roger Reid took over as head coach in 1989-90, they've had six 20-win seasons, five NCAA appearances and one NIT appearance. They've won three WAC championships and two WAC Tournament titles. They've been as unrelenting as Mike Wallace. Like the Santa Monica freeway at rush hour, they're something you want to avoid if at all possible.
But this year has been different. The Cougars are headed for their first non-20-win season since 1989. They were out of the conference race before the snow was cleared from the Marriott Center parking lot. They've lost four of their last seven games and two of the last three at home. Fans are figuring that staying home and watching "Murder, She Wrote" on Thursday nights isn't so bad. The Cougars have already gone to Plan B, which is to get enough momentum to make a run during the WAC tournament. Plan C includes hoping their big arena and national name will land them in the NIT.
Plan D is to take two aspirin and go to bed until next year.
Last week was an example of how losing has affected the Cougars. In a Thursday nationally televised game, guard Randy Reid had a chance to tie the score with 12 seconds remaining, but missed two free throws in a loss to Colorado State. On the post-game radio show, Reid choked up with emotion.
But more emotion was on the way. Two days later against Wyoming, freshman guard Nathan Cooper flagrantly fouled Wyoming star LaDrell Whitehead, prompting a bench-clearing rumble that didn't end in a fight, but did end in some serious name-calling and finger-pointing. Had the younger Reid not applied a decent full nelson on Cooper, the Cougars might just now have been getting out of jail. Cooper was thrown out of the game, along with four Wyoming players.
The stress hasn't bypassed coach Roger Reid, either. He recently made news for complaining that KSL-TV announcers Michael Smith and Craig Bolerjack are too negative, and questioned their support.
All things considered, it hasn't been a year the Cougars will want to remember.
So if you're planning on attending the BYU game tonight, be sure to bring something to help cheer up the Cougars. They could use the balloons and they could certainly use the company. This year, they don't have to deal with mobs of adoring fans or hordes of inquiring writers, but they do have to deal with something even more exasperating: learning what it's like to be average.