Cougars 67, Aztecs 50BYU's 1999-2000 season got its unofficial start way back in August when the Cougars took a European barnstorming tour. Eight months later, BYU is exhausted. And it shows.
There were moments Saturday night at the Marriott Center when it was difficult to tell which team -- BYU or San Diego State -- was winless in conference play and hadn't won a game since Jan. 2.
As expected, Cougars easily prevailed over the Aztecs, 67-50, though they didn't always make it look easy.
Now, they are eyeing a new season, the inaugural Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas.
BYU (18-9 and 7-7) is the No. 6 seed and will take on one of only two MWC teams it did not beat during the regular season -- No. 3 New Mexico (17-12, 9-5). Tipoff is at 1 p.m. on Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The winner will meet the victor of the No. 2 Utah-No. 7 Air Force contest on Friday.
Based on their sloppy performance against the Aztecs , the Cougars aren't exactly entering the tournament on a roll.
"I hate to say this, but everyone came in with (the attitude that) This is a game we should win,'" said forward Mekeli Wesley. "It's just a matter of going out there and getting it over with."
"The good news is we did what we needed to do to win," said coach Steve Cleveland. "It wasn't pretty."
At the same time, considering the year as a whole, Cleveland is happy.
"Being .500 in conference was something we wanted," he said. "I'm going to take this. This group has played with a lot of heart and courage. They overachieved on many a night . . . I'm very pleased with the end result. I wasn't pleased with the way we played tonight."
"It's good to get 18 wins under our belt," said point guard Matt Montague, who scored seven points, all in the first half.
San Diego State (5-22, 0-14), which draws the unenviable task of facing No. 1 seed UNLV on the Rebels' home court in the first round of the tournament, served as a reminder of how far the Cougars have come in recent years.
Three years ago, it was BYU that failed to win a single conference game. Today, the Cougars are poised for a berth in the NIT. Still, Cleveland isn't convinced that his squad, which all season has had the goal of qualifying for the NCAA tournament or NIT, has clinched a postseason bid.
"I don't know if 18 (wins) is enough," Cleveland said. "We're going to try to get 19."
As for the pathetic Aztecs, well, Montague can empathize. He was a member of the BYU squad that went 1-25 overall and 0-16 in league play in 1996-97. "Give them credit for playing with as much energy as they do," he said.
"It's awful when you don't win," said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who has experienced the other extreme, having won a national championship at Michigan. "It's hard to deal with."
As they did in their game in San Diego last month, the Cougars stifled Aztec star Myron Epps with an effective double-team defense. The sophomore forward hit his scoring average of 16 points, but he scored all but four of those in the final seven-and-a-half minutes. BYU limited Epps to three points in the previous meeting.
The Cougars got off to a sluggish start, trailing 13-8 eight minutes into the game. They eventually captured a 12-point edge at halftime. In the second half, both teams nearly put the crowd of 13,089 to sleep. BYU shot 30 percent and SDSU 29 percent in that half. The Cougars extended their lead to 20 at one point, but all they really wanted to do was to end it.
Offensively, BYU was led by the usual suspects, Terrell Lyday (19 points) and Wesley (15). They combined to hit five 3-pointers. All season they have been the workhorses and Saturday was no exception. Wesley played 36 minutes and Lyday logged 35. Both players are noticeably fatigued.
Next up? Those pesky Lobos.
"Hopefully we can get some rest this weekend," Wesley said.