Alabama Birmingham was what Dave Rose thought it was.
But Rose got the best out of his BYU squad in the opening 20 minutes and final seven of the first round of the NIT against UAB, and that was good enough for a convincing 97-79 win in the Marriott Center Wednesday.
Senior Chase Fischer made five of his 10 long-range bombs during crunch time, including three in a row to take over this game in spectacular fashion. Kyle Collinsworth? Well, he was prime time, padding his NCAA record.
Rose’s team lives and dies by the 3, and in this opening tournament victory they rode high in the saddle from distance early and late. It was a show.
BYU’s starting guards combined for 68 points, a punch the Blazers could not absorb.
That effort, an explosive start, plays above the rim and timely outside shots propelled the No. 2 seeded Cougars to another postseason home game Friday against Virginia Tech. A win Friday would bring a third home game on Tuesday or Wednesday, a great preamble to a trip to Madison Square Garden in the Big Apple, just like three years ago.
The Cougars raced to a 51-30 halftime lead over UAB, but in shades of their last post WCC game in the NCAA Tournament in Dayton a year ago, they gave up that 21-point lead very quickly after intermission. A career night by Robert Brown (29 points) cut that lead to four in 10 minutes.
Brown had BYU on the ropes. Then Fischer started landing haymakers.
Senior Collinsworth extended his remarkable NCAA career record of triple-doubles to 12, and freshmen Nick Emery and Zac Seljaas made huge 3-point buckets to pace the Cougars.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s first-round game with the 26-6 Blazers from Conference USA, Rose had UAB scouted down to shoelaces. Their tall guys reminded him of Gonzaga, who his Cougars had lost to two of three times by scores of 71-68 in Provo and 84-88 in Las Vegas last week. His memory was crystal clear.
UAB reminded Rose of Portland and Pacific, two teams that had length, were athletic and could get to the rim on both ends of the floor. The Cougars lost to that pair too, 71-65 at Pepperdine and 84-81 at Portland. In other words, he was wary, a respectable kind of wary, of Jerod Haase’s team.
And then there was Haase, a former Kansas and Cal player who spent four years on the Kansas staff and nine seasons as an assistant coach at North Carolina, alma mater of Michael Jordan, a place where basketball is religion.
While Rose played on that famed Houston Phi-Slamma Jamma team with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, Haase started in the same Califormia backcourt as Jason Kidd.
In short, Rose had a dilemma on his hands. He faced a very good coach with a very good team with the type of athletes his own team had bowed to in the WCC as late as a week ago Tuesday.
As in all those cases, his best chances were for his own big guys to play lights out, and his 3-point shooters absolutely had to thread the needle. They went 13 of 32 from beyond the arc.
When forward Kyle Davis buried a 3 in the opening minutes and Fischer and Emery followed up with bombs of their own, Rose had to feel the thread was in hand and poking eyes.
Collinsworth’s home-court triple-double was as impressive as any this season and featured two highlight film dunks early. He finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.
With St. Bonaventure, the No. 1 seed in BYU’s NIT bracket, losing to Wagner Wednesday, Rose now has a run set up at home that very well could get the Cougars to New York.