PROVO — Dave Rose will remember his team that repeated as MWC champion as a group of guys who were unselfish, competitive and extremely consistent.
The Cougars finished 27-8 overall and 14-2 in conference before bowing out to Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Anaheim, Calif. In the course of the season, the Cougars set marks for 3-point shooting and rebounding, a school record for most regular-season wins and also established the nation's longest home win streak.
"When you end up with a player who is perceived as your best player (Lee Cummard) who becomes your most unselfish player, you have a chance," Rose said. "We had two seniors in Ben Murdock and Sam Burgess who also put the team in front of themselves."
The Cougars return the core of this year's championship team that won 18 of their last 21 games. Returnees include Cummard, the Mountain West's co-MVP. The other junior, center Trent Plaisted, who is in position to graduate, is weighing his options of turning professional and will announce his intentions later this spring or summer, according to Rose. "He'll do what's best for him."
While freshman Chris Collinsworth is headed for a mission in Australia, two other freshmen, Jimmer Fredette and Michael Lloyd, return along with third-leading scorer Jonathan Tavernari, center Chris Miles and swingman Archie Rose.
Point guard Lamont Morgan and forward/center James Anderson return after redshirt seasons, and coach Rose will welcome back two missionaries — former Mr. Utah Basketball Jackson Emery, a guard, and Oklahoma all-state 6-foot-8 forward Noah Hartstock — and former Logan High all-state guard Charles Abouo, a native of the Ivory Coast, who attended Brewster Prep Academy this past year and will have four years eligibility.
Rose said his squad, which returned just two starters from the 2007 MWC championship team, found consistency this past year.
"I think it's something we talk about a lot and when it kind of goes over heads, we talk about it again. But I don't think people understand how difficult it is to be consistent over the course of three months when you are trying to win a championship," said Rose of his squad.
"You have illness. You have travel issues and emotional issues with your players. In order to be consistent over that period of time, it is a real compliment to players and to the coaching staff and players. When you talk about back-to-back championships, you talk about players who have really put that team in front of themselves and have gone out and been consistent. That is an accomplishment."
BYU's big disappointment was ending the season with two losses, the final game being another failure in the NCAA Tournament.
"When you get into the NCAA Tournament, you are playing teams that are not used to losing," Rose said. "That's why it is so competitive and so exciting. The teams who have got to that point are winners and it's going right down to the end, and you have two teams on the floor who are used to winning. At that point, you have to make another play, one more big play.
"In our situation the last two years, Xavier made some big plays down the wire and Dominique Kirk made a big play down the wire for A&M this year, and they'd still be playing if he'd made that wide-open shot against UCLA that rattled around and fell out."
Defense is a big part of it, but you have to be able to make big plays and hit big shots.
Rose said his returning players are hungry to get a tournament win. And while they met a lot of goals this past year, that one will remain on their plate.
"In many ways, this is one of the best teams BYU has had. I think they want more," Rose said. "The returning guys want to advance in the NCAA Tournament — that motivates them, maybe it takes them to one or two more reps in the weight room, one or two more sprints, one or two more minutes making shots in the off-season.
"My expectations for my team next year right now are, whatever the date is we start, Oct. 12 or 15, is that they'll be in great condition and be ready to be a very good team."
Rose said Fredette is excited about expanding his role and, with Michael Loyd, he's got combo guards with great flexibility. Morgan, who redshirted, has become one of the toughest players to guard in practices and "it will be a real battle" for point guard, said the coach. "Like Fredette, Morgan is hard to keep in front of you as a defender, and that puts a defense in a help situation which opens up shots for others," the Cougars' coach said.
Season at a glance
Final record: 27-8, 14-2
Postseason: The Cougars went 2-2 in postseason play with wins in the MWC tournament over SDSU and CSU before losing to UNLV. The Cougars' season ended in the NCAA first-round regional at Anaheim with a 67-62 loss to Texas A&M.
Starters lost: Ben Murdock (3.0 ppg., 2.4 rpg), Sam Burgess (8.7 ppg., 3.5 rpg).
Starters returning: Lee Cummard (15.8 ppg., 6.3 rpg), Trent Plaisted (15.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Jonathan Tavernari (13.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
Season highlight: The Cougars beat No. 6 Louisville, 78-76, at Las Vegas and finished the year on an 18-3 run with sweeps of New Mexico, CSU, Wyoming, Utah and Air Force.
Season lowlight: The worst loss of the year was a beating at UNLV by 28 points. Losing to UNLV in the MWC tournament and Texas A&M in the NCAA Big Dance hurt because the Cougars had second-half leads in both games and the losses gave the Cougars an 0-2 finish after they'd won 16 of their previous 17 games.