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Freshmen Emery, Seljaas have big impact in BYU's opening WCC tourney win

LAS VEGAS — Rookies no more.

Thrown into the fire all season and expected to deliver like veterans, that’s exactly what Zac Seljaas and Nick Emery did Saturday in BYU’s 72-60 win over Santa Clara in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena.

In all, Emery played 30 minutes and Seljaas 28.

The totals from this freshman duo? A combined 27 points, seven rebounds, 7 of 9 from the line, 6 for 13 from beyond the arc, big shots at crucial times, hustle and defense.

“They were amazing,” said team captain Kyle Collinsworth. “They’re guys we’re used to seeing do that and we depend upon them doing that."

Seljaas scored 12 points, hit 3 of his 6 3-point attempts and buried 3 of 4 free throws in the final minutes. Emery made 3 of 7 from distance, had a pair of steals and a team-high 15 points before fouling out.

With BYU up just 65-59 with 70 seconds to play, it was time for the Cougars to kill clock and make free throws. Collinsworth started off a string of seven straight points from the line and Seljaas made three of them.

They were big.

These novices don’t flinch and play through their mistakes. They’ve got the savvy of veterans. And if BYU is to survive until Tuesday’s WCC championship game, the things they do — especially draining threes — aren't a luxury or a fun sideshow, but absolutely necessary.

This was a strange game, but typical of a league tournament quarterfinal. The Cougars were pushing the ball at breakneck speed, trying to score before Santa Clara set its defense and the Broncos rode the hot hand of 30-point scorer Jared Brownridge and tried to take the air out of the ball.

As Collinsworth (13 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists) and Kyle Davis (11 points, 7 rebounds) did the nitty gritty, the two freshmen made huge buckets in the first half to propel the Cougars to a 17-point lead.

Emery, who’d taken a knee from Davis in an earlier practice, suffered a bruise to his leg and played injured.

Nevertheless, this duo delivered. As high school players, both forged reputations as big-time scorers, guys you could turn to in clutch situations. Emery took his shot to Germany where he put it on the shelf for missionary service the better part of two years. Seljaas will do the same in coming weeks, taking time out to serve his church in Iowa.

“They’ve been doing that all year. They’ve made big shots for us down the stretch. This isn’t any surprise to me. We’ve seen this all year long. This is why coach leaves them in the game at the end of the game,” said Collinsworth.

“He trusts them. Being a freshman is extremely hard and sometimes people get after freshmen for having lulls or ups and downs but those two have been nothing but terrific for us and I’m super proud of them.”

Davis echoed the sentiment. “They play so fast and hard, it's no surprise. They make big shots. They’ve done it before they got here and they’ve done it here.”

Seljaas said gaining confidence at the Division I level wasn’t easy "but going along and following the older guys, teaching us along the way, you kind of get that confidence and it builds to where you hit more and more and it carries you along the way.”

That Rose gives each of them the green light helps.

“It’s kind of like a trust thing. I trust Coach and what he does and decisions he makes. If he puts me in, I’ll go do it for him," Seljaas said. "If he doesn’t trust me to put me in a game, I’m all right with that. It’s a team thing.”

Seljaas said Saturday’s win was a tournament game in which sometimes things don’t go your way. “You have to just grind through it.”

The grind continues Monday when the rookie sensations could take center stage again.

In all, Emery played 30 minutes and Seljaas 28.

EMAIL: dharmon@deseretnews.com.

TWITTER: Harmonwrites