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COUGARS COMPLETE STRONG SEASON UNDER FIRST-YEAR COACH DAVE ROSE
Picked to finish last in the Mountain West Conference coming off a 9-21 season, BYU proved to be anything but the league's doormat in 2005-06 under the direction of first-year head coach Dave Rose.
The Cougars entered the final week of the regular season still in contention for the conference championship, ultimately finishing in a second-place tie with Air Force at 12-4, one game behind league-champion San Diego State. BYU posted a 20-9 record overall to earn a berth in the new NCAA-owned National Invitation Tournament as one of three MWC teams to qualify for postseason play.
"I really appreciate the effort these players gave this season," Rose said. "They played extremely hard. The will to win became the strength of this whole group."
After winning their final six league games and 10 of their last 11, including four of five on the road, the Cougars became an active part of the national discussion for at-large consideration into the NCAA Tournament. When all was said and done, BYU was the second-most improved program in the nation behind South Alabama, improving by 11.5 games overall and increasing the team's winning percentage from .300 in 2004-05 to .690 in 2005-06. It was also the largest improvement ever under a first-year BYU coach, as Rose's 11.5-game improvement passed Roger Reid's 6.5-game jump in 1989-90, and his 11 additional victories topped the eight extra wins achieved by Rose's predecessor Steve Cleveland in his first season in 1997-98.
After helping BYU become one of the nation's most improved teams, Cougar freshman Trent Plaisted was named a Freshman All-American while Rose received honorable mention for National Coach of the Year honors from Scout.com. Rose was selected the MWC Coach of the Year and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association District VIII Coach of the Year, becoming the first BYU coach to be named District Coach of the Year since Roger Reid earned the same honor in 1992.
Plaisted was named to the Scout.com Freshman All-America Second Team after leading BYU in scoring and rebounding in 2005-06. He averaged 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game over the season while being selected national freshman of the week three times. An All-MWC Second Team pick, Plaisted was also named the MWC Freshman of the Year and was one of only three freshmen in the nation to receive USBWA All-District recognition, being named to the District VIII Team.
During MWC action, Plaisted set the conference's freshman scoring record by a center, breaking the mark of former Utah center Andrew Bogut, who became the 2005 National Player of the Year as a sophomore. Plaisted had the top rebounding game ever by a BYU freshman and also set the MWC freshman record for rebounds in a league game when he grabbed 18 boards at TCU. Plaisted led BYU with six double-double outings while recording a team-leading 25 double-figure scoring games during the season.
Overall in 2005-06, nine players received starting assignments while Rose used eight starting lineups. Five of BYU's top seven scorers and rebounders were first-year players and a walk-on. That walk-on, lone senior Brock Reichner, was voted a team captain to begin the year and proved to be a consistent leader on the court all season while earning All-MWC honorable mention. The 6-foot-4 guard started every game but the first and the last (the latter being because of illness) and was the team's second-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game. He tied for the top three-point percentage among MWC players (minimum of 1.8 treys made per game), shooting 48.2 percent behind the arc while making a BYU-best 53 triples on the season.
Joining Plaisted as an All-MWC performer, third-team selection Keena Young was second to the 6-foot-11 Plaisted on the glass with 5.8 rebounds per game. Despite his somewhat undersized 6-foot-6 frame, Young provided a tough presence and consistent scoring threat in the post for Coach Rose, averaging 10.3 points as the team's third-leading scorer, including a 14.5 average over the final seven games. The junior forward was an efficient point producer, ranking second on the team in accuracy from the floor (.523) and from the free-throw line (.777).
Transfer point guard Rashaun Broadus started 26 games in his junior campaign and received All-MWC honorable mention. He ranked second among MWC players in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.39) and fourth in assists (3.7) while scoring 9.0 points per game, including a season-high 21 points at Utah State. Last year's starter at the point, junior Austin Ainge was often a difference-maker off the bench, igniting BYU runs with his aggressive transition passing in Rose's up-tempo, attacking offense. Ainge, who served as co-captain along with Reichner, dished out 2.6 assists per game to rank 11th among MWC players and had his biggest scoring night of the year in BYU's win over MWC-champion San Diego State, hitting all six shots, including a 4-for-4 performance from behind the three-point arc, to total a season-high 16 points.
Another key for BYU was junior Jimmy Balderson. After leading the Canadian National Development Team in scoring at the World University Games during the summer, the 6-foot-6 wing provided important production for BYU off the bench after starting the first nine games of the year. He reached double-digit points on 17 occasions, including 11 of the last 13 games, and topped 20 points three times while averaging 10.2 points on the year.
Other solid contributors for the Cougars included true freshmen Lee Cummard and Jackson Emery and junior transfer Fernando Malaman. The 6-foot-6 Cummard started 14 games on the wing and shot 45.5 percent from the floor, averaging 4.9 points and 2.3 rebounds, while the 6-foot-3 Emery averaged 2.8 points and was a top defender on the perimeter, earning starts in the last six games of the season. The 6-foot-9 Malaman was a factor in the post, starting 15 games and shooting a team-leading .525 from the floor, including the team's second-best accuracy on threes (18-for-42, .429), while averaging 7.0 points and 3.7 rebounds. With his length and timing, he also led BYU with 29 blocked shots.
Guard Mike Rose and center Derek Dawes saw more limited action as juniors compared to their sophomore seasons but still played roles in BYU's success. Rose appeared in 22 games and made 18 treys, scoring 3.1 points in nine minutes of action, while Dawes played in 19 contests, missing four games due to injury, averaging 3.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in 8.7 minutes. Rose scored a season-high 12 points on two occasions while Dawes recorded season highs of 10 points and seven rebounds. Redshirt freshman forward Jermaine Odjegba made five appearances after returning from a two-year LDS Church mission, and redshirt freshman center David Burgess played in three games prior to transferring to Gonzaga at the semester break.
Typified by former starters like Ainge and Balderson accepting and excelling in roles off the bench, BYU had exceptional team chemistry and boasted a balanced attack that featured 11 players who achieved a double-figures scoring game and five who averaged between nine and 14 points on the year. During the season, Plaisted, Broadus and Balderson received MWC Player of the Week honors for their outstanding play.
BYU became known for its fight-to-the-end moxie as the Cougars were strong in the clutch, going 11-2 in games decided by nine points or less. Perhaps the moment, or more literally the minute, that gave the Cougars such an inspired outlook on closing out games was their dramatic come-from-behind triumph over TCU in Provo, where BYU scored 11 points in the final 53 seconds to force overtime before going on to victory.
"The TCU win was probably when we broke through to a higher level of confidence," Rose said. "It was different after that."
That TCU win was followed by back-to-back road successes at Colorado State and New Mexico, where BYU ended the Lobos' 21-game home victory streak, which ranked fourth nationally. BYU now has ended each of New Mexico's three longest home winning streaks. With a lone loss at Utah, BYU won 10 of its final 11 league games despite nine of the 10 victories being decided by a single-digit margin. In the process, the Cougars avenged their three prior league losses with wins over Air Force, UNLV and MWC-champion San Diego State to earn victories over every MWC team during the season.
In BYU's win over San Diego State, the Cougars shot a season-best 75.9 percent from the field in the second half to tally 100 points against a league opponent for the first time since 1994. In the fast-paced 100-90 triumph, six Cougars scored in double figures -- led by Young with a career-high 20 points -- to keep BYU within striking distance for the league title. BYU did not lose consecutive games all year until dropping its final two contests, being upset as the No. 3 seed by Utah, 74-70, at the MWC Tournament in Denver and then falling, 77-67, on the road as a No. 6 seed at Coach Rose's alma mater, No. 3-seeded Houston, in the first round of the NIT.
Fun to watch, the Cougars led the MWC in scoring and assists and outpaced their opponents on the season in points in the paint, second-chance points, points off of turnovers and fastbreak points. Despite the preseason predictions of a second-consecutive last-place finish, BYU gradually earned the respect of its fans with its consistently entertaining and highly successful style of play, ending the season ranked second among MWC schools in attendance at 11,069. In BYU's final home game, a season-high 20,732 Cougar faithful gathered to cheer BYU to victory over New Mexico, see the senior sendoff for Reichner and witness the jersey retirement of the late Kresimir Cosic. The Basketball Hall of Fame member and first-ever foreign-born All-American was honored during a touching halftime ceremony that reflected on the amazing basketball career and personal achievements of the 6-foot-11 native of Zadar, Yugoslavia. Cosic's family traveled from Croatia for the event that inspired tears as thousands of BYU students donning white No. 11 Cosic-jersey t-shirts cheered and chanted the name of a man they had never seen play but had come to admire.
"It is very impressive that Kreso is not forgotten here," said Cosic's wife Ljerka, through her daughter, Ana. "Kreso never forgot Provo. He loved his Croatia and always spoke of it as the most beautiful place on Earth, but Provo forever remained his second home. Provo and BYU marked his life and career."
BYU won its final 14 home games after a season-opening loss to Loyola Marymount to build the nation's eighth-longest active homecourt victory streak. The Cougars finished 5-7 in away games and 1-1 at neutral sites. Their season-best six-game winning streak was tied for seventh nationally before being broken. BYU scored an MWC-leading 76.2 ppg and shot .462 from the field, including .388 from long range and .715 from the line. Cougar opponents averaged 71.7 points on .452 shooting, .358 from three and .689 from the line. BYU pulled down 35.3 rebounds per game to its opponents' 33.6 and dished out an MWC-best 15.9 assists compared to 14.7 turnovers per game.
With the 20-9 record, Rose became the fifth Cougar head coach to reach 20 wins in his first year at the helm, achieving BYU's 29th 20-win season. Since the formation of the MWC, BYU has had five 20-win seasons, leading all MWC schools along with Utah. In those seven years, BYU has also had the league's top RPI three times, been second once and third on three occasions. The Cougars were third this year (67) behind Air Force (50) and San Diego State (56).