In 2001-02 BYU earned its third consecutive postseason tournament berth and featured several unique individual accomplishments and some key team highlights, including a win over No. 13 Stanford and a dramatic come-from-behind triumph over rival Utah. But the 2001-02 season may be best described as "a tale of two teams"-- the Cougars at home and the Cougars away from the Marriott Center.
BYU finished the season at 18-12 overall and advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament after tying for fourth in the Mountain West Conference with a 7-7 league record. The season's individual accomplishments included an incredible 30-point, 17-rebound effort by junior guard Travis Hansen; a 29-point performance to upset No. 13 Stanford by senior forward Eric Nielsen; a BYU record 22 straight games with a trey by sophomore forward Mark Bigelow; and an assist display by senior point guard Matt Montague that helped him finish sixth in the nation in assists while becoming BYU's all-time and single-season assist leader.
For the second year in a row the Cougars were perfect at home going 16-0 in Provo. This feat, together with a 15-0 home record from 2000-01 and part of the 1999-00 season has earned the Cougars the longest home winning streak in the nation at 36 games. Big home victories in 2001-02 included wins over Utah, Creighton and San Diego State, all of which made it to the NCAA's "big dance" at season's end. The Cougars also beat NIT bound teams such as New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming, and Arizona State at home.
In the last regular season home game of their careers, seniors Montague and Nielsen combined to create an unforgettable comeback that led to a 63-61 victory over rival Utah at the Marriott Center. With 1:18 left in the game, Montague hit a three-pointer to bring BYU within one, 61-60. The Marriott Center crowd of 15,628 erupted. Then Montague made a record-setting assist to Nielsen, who finished the play by hitting an eight-foot jumper to give the Cougars their first lead of the game, 62-61, with 25 seconds remaining. The assist tied Montague with BYU legend Danny Ainge for the all-time career record for assists and added more lore to the tradition of Marriott Center magic. BYU victory looked very doubtful in the first half as the Cougars trailed 43-26 at the break. Early scores by Utah in the second half pushed the lead to 21, 47-26, but BYU then went on a 24-5 run to make it 52-50 with 7:26 remaining.
Despite being in every game, including two overtime defeats, BYU finished the season with a 2-12 record away from home. The Cougars opened the season with a win at the University of San Diego but mustered only one other road win the rest of the way. That win, however, was perhaps the team's biggest of the season as the Cougars defeated national powerhouse Stanford at the Las Vegas Showdown on December 22. The Cougars were carried by the hot hand of Nielsen, who shot the lights out and ended the game with a career-best 29 points. The win came in the middle of an eight-game winning streak, which was the longest of the season.
BYU became the first Cougar team to win every conference game at home while dropping each league contest on the road. After advancing to the title game at the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas the prior two seasons, BYU had its string of consecutive appearances in the championship game snapped in the first round by San Diego State. The Aztecs went on to beat UNLV in the championship to earn the MWC Tournament crown.
The Cougars made their third consecutive postseason tournament appearance and their second NIT bid in the past three years. BYU beat UC Irvine 78-55 in Provo to advance to the second round of the NIT but the Cougar's road woes continued in a second-round loss at Memphis. The Tigers eventually won the NIT title, beating South Carolina 72-62.
The Cougars top scorer of the year was forward Travis Hansen with 15.6 ppg. Hansen also led the Cougars in rebounding at 6.2 boards per game. His best performance came in an overtime loss to Pepperdine where he recorded career highs of 30 points and 17 boards. Hansen was named MWC Player of the Week for his efforts in Malibu. He was named Second Team All-MWC at season's end.
Another bright spot for the Cougars was the emergence of freshman center Jared Jensen. He was named MWC Co-Freshman of the Year along with Jason Straight of Wyoming. Jensen finished the season with an 8.6 ppg average and was solid in the middle for the Cougars. His best game came at Air Force when he scored a team-high 20 points while pulling down seven boards and recording two steals.
Montague passed BYU Hall-of-Famer Danny Ainge as the school's all-team assists leader. Montague holds the top spots in almost all assist categories including total assists/career-565, total assists/season-212, assists by average/career- 4.67, and assists by average/season- 7.3. Montague dished out 15 assists twice last season, which puts him in second place on the single-game assist record behind Mike May, who had a 16-assist game in 1976.
Bigelow scored 31 points in a win over Arizona State and set the school record for consecutive games with a three pointer at 22 when he connected from behind the arc last season against UNLV. The 22-game span dated back to his freshman year. The previous record was 21 games held by former Cougar Terrell Lyday. Lyday's mark of 21 games remains as the single season record.
Seniors Montague and Nielsen finished the year with solid seasons as Nielsen was third on the team in scoring at 10.0 ppg and second in rebounds at 5.1, while Montague averaged 6.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 7.2 assists. As a team, BYU shot 47 percent from the floor, including 39.7 percent on threes, and continued to be among the nation's top free throw shooting teams at 76 percent. The Cougars outscored their opponents 70.5 to 65.0 and held the opposition to 42.4 percent shooting from the floor and 30.6 percent from behind the arc.