Cougars Continue Tradition Of Excellence in 2007-08
The 2007-08 season proved to be another example of how the Dave Rose era of BYU basketball continues to strengthen the program’s already excellent tradition of success.
Featuring his teams’ consistently evident traits of excitement and accomplishment, Rose has achieved a three-year record (72-26) that ranks among the top 10 in NCAA history by any first-time Division I coach. In 2007-08, the Rose-guided Cougars went 27-8 to win the second-most games in school history while becoming the first outright back-to-back Mountain West Conference Champions in league history. The team also achieved BYU’s first consecutive appearances in the Top 25 polls since the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons and earned the program’s first victory over a top-6 ranked team since 1965 with its triumph over Rick Pitino’s sixth-rated Louisville Cardinals.
“Our staff is very proud of what these players accomplished this year,” said Rose. “We won a lot of games and won back-to-back Mountain West Conference regular-season championships. We beat a team ranked in the top 10 for the first time in a long while. We've got a nice homecourt winning streak going. There's a lot of good things that are going on with BYU basketball.”
In achieving the program’s 31st 20-win season, including the last three straight, Rose becomes just the third Cougar coach to win 20 games in each of his first three seasons and is the first to do so after taking over a program with less than 13 wins the prior year (9-21 in 2004-05). BYU also made its 23rd overall NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008, including the fifth in the last eight years.
The Cougars won the MWC regular-season title by two games over UNLV with an MWC-record 14-2 resume to finish the regular season with a school-record 25 regular-season victories. The consecutive outright league titles were the first for BYU since Danny Ainge played for the Cougars in 1978-79 and 1979-80. The conference crown was also BYU’s 27th overall to rank the Cougars ninth all-time among all Division I programs. BYU’s MWC supremacy has been well established as the Cougars’ 87 wins in the nine-year history of the league lead all conference teams.
Balanced as an offensive and defensive unit, BYU ranked No. 8 nationally in field-goal percentage defense, No. 14 in assists per game and No. 18 in scoring margin. The Cougars’ win-loss percentage ranked 16th in the nation. In addition to leading the MWC in field-goal percentage defense, BYU also was the top MWC team in three-point percentage defense, rebounding average, defensive rebounds and assists.
"This is a championship team," Rose said. "This group has embraced the word team better than any other team I've been around. These players are all great players with great talent that sacrifice everything for the good of the team. They all play for the good of the team, and for that I am grateful."
Breaking school and league records became the norm for the Cougars in 2007-08 as new school marks for regular-season wins, consecutive home wins (47), made three-pointers (256) and assist-to-field goal ratio (64.8) were set. BYU also established new league records for conference wins, rebounds in overall play (1,351) and rebounds in league play (618) while tying the marks for overall road wins (8) and conference road wins (6). The Cougars’ +10.5 scoring margin is the fifth-highest mark in both MWC and BYU history and the highest for the Cougars since 1991-92.
While teamwork was the BYU buzzword, several individual accomplishments contributed to the Cougars’ success. Junior guard Lee Cummard was named the MWC Co-Player of the Year, marking back-to-back years in which a Cougar has taken home the top league award after Keena Young was so honored in 2006-07. An all-around athlete, Cummard also received AP All-America honorable mention after leading the team with 15.8 points per game on 56.9 percent shooting from the field while adding 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest. He also led the Cougars with 35 blocks on the year and was second on the team with 33 assists. The only MWC player to rank among the top 10 in the league in eight statistical categories, Cummard led the Cougars in scoring 16 times, assists 12 times and rebounding eight times while posting three double-doubles among 32 games in which he scored in double figures, including 10 contests topping the 20-point mark.
The dynamic duo of Cummard and junior forward/center Trent Plaisted garnered selections to the NABC All-District 13 First Team, the USBWA All-District VIII Team and the All-MWC First Team. The pair also became the 37th and 38th members of BYU’s 1,000 Point Club. Cummard has scored 1,013 career points through his junior season while Plaisted’s 1,372 career points ranks 14th all-time in BYU history.
Plaisted racked up his scoring numbers by averaging 15.6 ppg on .542 shooting from the field to go along with a team-leading 7.7 rpg. His 34 blocks on the year ranked second on the team and helped him rank among the top 10 in the MWC in five statistical categories. A three-time MWC Player of the Week honoree, Plaisted led the Cougars in rebounds 16 times, scoring 10 times and assists twice while tallying eight double-doubles amid 27 double-figure scoring games, including 11 over the 20-point mark. He played his best basketball against the Cougars’ best opponents, averaging 20.7 points and 12.3 rebounds in BYU’s three contests against ranked teams, including a 24-point, 17-rebound highlight reel against No. 1 North Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational Championship game. Following the season, Plaisted became the 44th NBA Draft selection in BYU history.
Sophomore guard Jonathan Tavernari also made his presence felt in the Cougar program as he earned third-team All-MWC honors and set the BYU record for three-pointers made in a season with 88, also an MWC sophomore record, while attempting a school-record 234 treys. Tavernari along with teammates Cummard (60) and Sam Burgess (56) helped the 2007-08 team become the first in program history to have three players each hit at least 50 treys.
Two seniors also contributed significantly to BYU’s success as point guard Ben Murdock and shooting guard Burgess each started every game in 2007-08 after starting a combined total of one game (Burgess in 2004-05) prior to this year. Murdock finished the season second in the MWC and 23rd nationally in assist/turnover ratio at 2.40 while also ranking sixth in the league in assists (3.57). Murdock led the Cougars in assists 15 times, dishing out a career-high 10 at Portland. Burgess ranked fourth on the team in scoring with 8.7 ppg to go along with 3.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per contest. He was second for the Cougars in three-point percentage (.424) and fourth in field-goal percentage (.448) while leading the team in assists seven times, rebounds once and scoring twice amid 15 double-figure scoring games.
After losing senior Vuk Ivanovic to a season-ending injury in January, the Cougars came to rely on sophomore center Chris Miles as Plaisted’s back-up in the post. Miles averaged 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game, showing great promise for the future in Plaisted’s absence.
Several other players impressed coaches and fans off the bench as well, including true freshmen Jimmer Fredette, Chris Collinsworth and Michael Loyd, Jr. Fredette was fifth on the team in scoring with 7.0 ppg while leading the Cougars in points and assists twice and rebounds once. He posted 13 double-digit scoring games and saw more action at the point guard spot as the year progressed. Collinsworth made six starts while averaging 3.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest, fourth on the team. He paced BYU on the boards seven times while notching three double-digit rebounding games and one double-double on the year. The No. 2 point guard for the majority of the season, Loyd, Jr., recorded 1.2 apg and 2.0 ppg while appearing in 32 of 35 contests.
The Cougars began the year with a 74-34 rout of Long Beach State in the first of five straight wins to begin the season. The fifth victory came in spectacular fashion as the Cougars defeated No. 6 Louisville, 78-76, in the semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational led by 29 points from Tavernari. The next night, BYU battled No. 1 North Carolina through six second-half lead changes before finally surrendering, 73-63. The Cougars won five of their next six games with the only setback coming against No. 9 Michigan State, 68-61, after holding a double-digit halftime lead.
A 2-3 stretch after the first of the year, including a loss at ACC-power Wake Forest, left BYU with a 12-5 record overall and a 1-1 mark in MWC play heading into the rivalry game at Utah. For the second straight year, the Cougars prevailed in Salt Lake City, pulling out a hard-fought 55-52 win. The victory proved to be a rallying cry for BYU as the Cougars ran off nine straight wins to dominate the conference scene, avenging an earlier loss to UNLV with a crushing 74-48 triumph. A 69-65 setback at San Diego State was the only blemish during a stretch that saw BYU win 15 of 16 games, including a thrilling 70-69 overtime win at New Mexico, to record the program’s second straight MWC regular-season title and advance to the MWC Tournament Championship game. Playing on UNLV’s home floor, the Cougars fell to the Rebels for the tourney title but received an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, the program’s 23rd NCAA berth. However, BYU could not prolong its season, falling 67-62 to Big 12 powerhouse Texas A&M in the first round.