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PROVO, Utah -- BYU's second season under head coach Dave Rose not only improved upon his impressive inaugural campaign but also proved to be one of the best seasons a Cougar team has ever achieved in the program's 105-year history. Saturated with milestones, records and achievements, the 2006-07 season could prove to be a mile marker on the road to even greater success for the future of BYU basketball.
After becoming the second-most improved team in the nation in Rose's first season at BYU, the Cougars responded in his second year with a 25-9 resume that included the program's first outright league championship since 1988, its first national top-25 ranking since 1993, its first season sweep over rival Utah since 1994 and its first NCAA Tournament invitation since 2004, including its highest seed since 1995. On the record books at BYU, only two teams (1951 -- 28 wins; 1988 -- 26 wins) won more games in a season than the 25 victories achieved by the Cougars in 2006-07. BYU defeated three nationally ranked teams in the process and earned a national ranking (No. 24) in the final Associated Press Top 25 Poll, something a Cougar team hasn't done since 1988.
Rose was named the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year for the second time in as many seasons, becoming the first-ever BYU men's basketball coach to win back-to-back league coach-of-the-year honors. Senior forward Keena Young was named the MWC Player of the Year and became the first Cougar since 2004 to receive AP All-America honorable mention. He also earned all-district recognition from the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the United States Basketball Writers Association. Sophomores Trent Plaisted and Lee Cummard were All-MWC selections to the second and third teams, respectively, while senior point guard Austin Ainge received All-MWC honorable mention. Freshman forward Jonathan Tavernari followed Plaisted's lead of one year ago by receiving MWC Freshman of the Year accolades during his first season as a Cougar.
"I'm really proud of the way our team came together and played as a group," Rose said. "We accomplished many of the goals we set for our team at the beginning of the season and gave ourselves a good starting point for next year."
While Coach Rose and his staff start the process of preparing for future successes, the milestones and building blocks of the past season give Cougar faithful plenty of inspiring memories to reflect upon during the offseason. Among them was BYU's first win over a nationally ranked team in the Marriott Center since 1992, its first road success over a nationally ranked opponent since 1998, its first victory over Utah in Salt Lake City since 1994 and a conference-title-clinching triumph over the Utes in the regular-season finale in the Marriott Center.
"There are a lot of great memories from the season," Rose said. "Winning the conference championship outright in the final home game with five seniors knowing it was the last time they would play in the Marriott Center was a real sense of accomplishment. Winning the outright conference championship is the goal of every coach every year. The fact that we were able to accomplish that goal is probably what we're most proud of this season."
With BYU standing alone atop the MWC at 13-3 with its win over Utah, the nets came down and the championship trophy went up to the cheers of an MWC-record crowd of 22,812, which shared in celebrating the culminating achievement of the conference season. BYU fans also packed the house vs. Air Force as a sellout crowd of 22,700 clad in white shirts provided an inspiring canvas against which the image of a championship team started coming into view with a big win over the No. 13 Falcons. In a season of milestones, the fans made their mark with two sellouts in a season for the first time since the spacious Marriott Center was filled to capacity against both UNLV and Utah in 1982.
For BYU, success also had style in 2006-07. Fun to watch, the Cougar roster was full of team-first players who displayed a brand of basketball that produced not only points and wins but also praise and admiration. Said New Mexico coach Ritchie McKay after playing the Cougars, "The way they share the ball is phenomenal. When you have an interior, exterior game and you handle pressure and you don't care who scores and you defend with toughness, I like their chances. That team doesn't have many weaknesses, if any."
This selfless approach was evident in that nine different Cougars led the team in scoring during the year while eight different players paced BYU during games in both rebounds and assists.
"This was a great group of players," Rose said. "When we started the season we expected to compete for the conference championship. We challenged Keena to be that good (Player of the Year). We thought he had the potential to be one of the best scorers in the league. He worked extremely hard in the offseason, and he was consistent all year."
Young led BYU in scoring (17.4) and rebounding (6.6) while Plaisted was second on both the glass (6.2) and the scoreboard (12.6), followed by Cummard (9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg), senior co-captain Jimmy Balderson (8.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Ainge (7.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg). Ainge led the way in assists (4.4) followed by Cummard (2.7), who was BYU's top perimeter defender and leader in steals (1.5) and minutes (29.1). Senior Mike Rose made a team-high 61 treys to finish second all-time in career three-pointers at BYU with 163.
Collectively, the team produced the program's highest scoring average (78.1) since 1996 and largest margin of victory (+9.04) since 1993 while setting school records for three-pointers in a season (256) and in a game (15) and the largest-ever margin of victory (62, 102-40 over Western Oregon) in the 105-year history of the program. The Cougars also established new MWC records during league play for total points scored (1,263), three-point shooting percentage (.457) and field goals made (459) while tying the conference benchmark in assists (268).
In overall play, BYU led the MWC in scoring, shooting, three-point shooting, total rebounds, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, rebounding margin and assists. The Cougars ranked fifth nationally in three-point shooting, 10th in overall field-goal percentage, 18th in rebounding margin, 24th in scoring and 25th in scoring margin.
In the Marriott Center, the Cougars were a perfect 17-0 while building the nation's second-longest active home victory streak at 31 games. Prior to Memphis winning three straight games on its home floor during its postseason conference tournament, BYU concluded the regular season with the best mark in the nation. The Cougars claimed the top spot after taking matters into their own hands by knocking the No. 20 Air Force Falcons off their perch with a road win at Clune Arena in the prelude to BYU's home finale against Utah.
"We have a great homecourt advantage and great fan support," Rose said. "One of the main goals of every team is to play well at home, and we were able to do that this year. As the season went on and our team got better and better, the support got better. It makes our arena a really tough place for opponents to come in and play and adds to our success."
BYU averaged 12,073 fans for the season, finishing second in the MWC in attendance behind New Mexico's 12,853 average. The Cougars outdrew the regular-season conference champions of 26 of the nation's 30 other conferences as well as more than half of the teams in the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big East and Southeastern conferences and all but Arizona in the Pacific-10 Conference. BYU also averaged more fans than 11 of the 16 NCAA Sweet 16 participants and three of the Final Four teams, including back-to-back national champion Florida.
The Cougars also achieved success on the road. BYU was the only MWC team to earn a winning road record in league play, going 5-3 in opponent gyms, and went 8-9 overall away from home with a 6-7 road mark and 2-2 result on neutral floors.
BYU began the season in Westwood on the historic hardwoods of UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. With legendary UCLA coach John Wooden in attendance, the Cougars led the reigning national runners-up and No. 5-ranked Bruins at the half and trailed by two points with just over six minutes to play before falling to the heavy favorites, 82-69. The talented Bruins went on to win their first 14 games, were ranked as high as No. 1 and eventually earned their second straight trip to the Final Four. BYU proved to be the only nonconference team to challenged UCLA at home as the Bruins defeated their other adversaries by an average of 24.8 points and downed Pac-10 foes by an 18.1 margin at Pauley.
The nonconference schedule produced a 10-4 record highlighted by a road win at Big Sky Champion Weber State, a victory over 23-win Utah State and back-to-back-to-back triumphs over Liberty, Mid-Continent Conference Champion Oral Roberts and the Big East's Seton Hall to claim the 2006 BYU Holiday Classic crown. Young, who had 21 points and a BYU-season-best 16 rebounds to lead the Cougars over Oral Roberts, was the tournament MVP and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Cummard, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds vs. Seton Hall. After UCLA, the setbacks came at Boise State and then consecutively against No. 25 Michigan State in Detroit and at Lamar. After the overtime loss in Beaumont, BYU won its next seven outings and later had a season-best eight-game victory streak while winning 16 of its next 18 contests. The Cougars won 10 of their last 11 regular-season games for the second straight year to finish as the outright MWC Champions.
One of BYU's big wins in league play was a 90-63 shellacking of eventual Sweet 16 qualifier UNLV in the Marriott Center. Mike Rose came off the bench to tie his own BYU record of eight threes in a game while scoring a career-high 27 points. His eighth triple also established a new BYU team mark as the Cougars connected 15 times from behind the arc. BYU's victory over the No. 25 Rebels was one of three wins over top-25 competition during the season and one of six triumphs over teams that won 20 or more games.
As the No. 1 seed at the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas, the Cougars defeated No. 8-seed TCU and No. 5-seed Wyoming before falling to the host Rebels in the finale despite leading by double digits during the game. Young was nearly unstoppable in the championship game, going 13-of-18 from the floor to set a BYU MWC Tournament record with 34 points -- the most points scored by a Cougar since 2000. He averaged 18.0 points and 9.0 rebounds for the week and was named to the MWC All-Tournament Team along with Plaisted and Cummard. Plaisted averaged 18.7 points on .647 shooting and 7.3 rebounds while tying his career high of 27 points with 10 rebounds to lead BYU over Wyoming in the semifinals. Cummard established career highs on back-to-back nights with 21 points against the Cowboys and 13 rebounds vs. the Rebels while averaging 12.7 points and 9.0 rebounds in the Tournament. Ainge set a new MWC Tournament record with 10 assists in the title contest.
BYU received its 22nd NCAA Tournament invitation as an at-large entry and No. 8 seed in the South Region playing first- and second-round games at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Despite owning the large lead of the game at nine points during the second half, BYU ended up two points short at the final buzzer, losing 79-77 to No. 9-seed Xavier. Young paced BYU with 24 points and 10 rebounds in what most called the best game of the day nationally. Playing less than 90 miles from home, Xavier had the large Musketeer crowd rocking against BYU and nearly pulled off a second-round upset over eventual national runner-up and No. 1-seed Ohio State, as the Buckeyes had to force overtime with a three-pointer before earning the win.
On the year, Young scored 590 points -- 15th all-time at BYU -- to become one of only 36 players to reach 1,000 points during their Cougar career, finishing 33rd on the list with 1,068. Tavernari tied a team record for consecutive threes in a game by connecting on his first six attempts in BYU's win over TCU in the Marriott Center. Plaisted set an MWC sophomore record for blocked shots in a game with a career-high six in BYU's 80-58 trouncing of reigning conference champion San Diego State in BYU's league opener. The Cougars went on to win five conference games by 20 or more points after only accomplishing that feat six times during the MWC's first seven years.
In all, it was an historic season that, perhaps fittingly, began and ended in the tradition-rich venues of Pauley Pavilion and Rupp Arena. If what happened in between those two experiences is any indication, BYU could experience more of the traditions and play a greater role in the history of college basketball in the future.