It was only moments after BYU had stunned No. 16 New Mexico at the Pit Thursday night, and coach Steve Cleveland was trying to gather his thoughts.
"Whew," said Cleveland. "I'm worn out. It's been a long four weeks."The last month of the season has been the most trying in Cleveland's coaching career. In that span the Cougars won only one game - against Air Force last week.
But all that is history, as far as the Cougars are concerned. Despite going 3-10 in WAC play so far and 8-20 overall, they are still on track to meet their one and only goal this season: make the WAC Tournament.
"We realize this game with UTEP will be an absolute dogfight," said Cleveland. "It all comes down to Saturday."
BYU plays UTEP at the Special Events Center tonight at 7.
Understandably, this was the game BYU was preparing for all week. Though the Cougars played New Mexico Thursday, and came away with a shocking 83-62 victory, that wasn't the original plan. They lightly prepared for the Lobos, figuring their odds on winning were slim, and knowing that game had little or nothing to do with their chances of making the WAC Tournament. They spent nearly all week studying UTEP. Instead, they beat the Lobos, which means no combinations of wins by either UTEP or Air Force - the other two teams that were hoping to gain the final Tournament playoff spot - can keep BYU out of the tournament if it wins tonight.
"This is what we've been preparing for all week," said Selleaze.
In BYU's favor is the fact that the Miners have completely failed in recent weeks, having lost their last seven games, all WAC constests. The latest was Thursday night's 71-49 defeat at the hands of Utah. Still, the Miners have won their last three games against BYU. They have lost nine of the last 10, but their lone victory in that period came in Provo in a 68-59 win over BYU.
Meanwhile, the Cougars are at their highest point in two seasons.
"Are we a different team?" said Selleaze. "Yes, we are. This is the best we've been all year. We knew we had to step up and play well in New Mexico and then go to UTEP and play defense and win."
Cleveland said the New Mexico game was clearly the best game of the year for nearly all his players. Selleaze added, "This is the first 40-minute game we've played all season."
PREGAME NOTES: BYU leads the all-time series 37-24 over UTEP . . . Miners' coach Don Haskins has 703 career victories, ninth on the all-time list and third among active coache . . . Guard Brian Dignan has a sprained ankle and is questionable for tonight's game.