With expectations set high in the first three years of the Dave Rose era, BYU men’s basketball turned in another strong campaign in 2008-09 as the Cougars claimed their fourth-straight 20-win season, third-straight Mountain West Conference regular season title and third-straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
“I am very proud of what we accomplished this season,” Rose said. “After a tough start in conference play we finished strong to win a third-straight Mountain West Conference title and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. We did all that despite returning just two starters. Our guys worked hard and fought through challenges to have an exceptional season.”
Possibly the most impressive accomplishment of the 2008-09 squad was becoming the first program to win three-straight MWC regular season titles. After winning the league outright in 2007 and 2008, BYU shared the title with New Mexico and Utah despite returning just two starters and starting only one senior in a senior-dominated league.
The Cougars finished the year 25-8 overall and 12-4 in the MWC, winning 25 games for the third-straight year—a first in the history of BYU basketball and the 32nd 20-win season in the team’s history. Rose also led the Cougars into the top 25 for the third-straight season, the first time since 1979-82 that BYU has been ranked for three-straight seasons. The Cougars’ third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance marks the 24th overall in program history and sixth in nine seasons.
With four-straight 20-win seasons to start his head coaching career at the NCAA Division I level, Rose joins G. Ott Romney and Roger Reid as the only head coaches in BYU men’s basketball history to begin their careers in such fashion. His winning percentage (.740) and win total (97) are tops among the three. Rose is not only off to a blistering start in comparison to former BYU coaches, he is off to the best start of any coach in the history of the MWC. Rose is first in league history in winning percentage (.797), outright regular season titles (2), tied for first in regular season titles (3) and third in total conference victories (51).
In four years as a head coach, Rose has made waves nationally as well as in the MWC. Of the 47 coaches who took over a men’s NCAA Division I program in 2005, Rose has the best winning percentage (.740) and is second for most wins (97), trailing only Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl by one game. Also, of the 17 first-time Division I coaches who started in 2005, Rose leads with 97 wins, 12 ahead of Kent State’s Geno Ford in second.
The big three—senior Lee Cummard, sophomore Jimmer Fredette and junior Jonathan Tavernari—earned All-MWC honors with Cummard and Fredette making the first team and Tavernari earning third-team honors. Jackson Emery joined the big three with a nod on the MWC All-Defense squad. Cummard and Fredette were named to the United States Basketball Writers Association All-District team while Cummard also earned all-district honors from the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
In addition to his conference and district recognition, FOXSports.com named Cummard a fourth-team All-America in his final campaign at BYU. The four-year starter also played in the Hershey’s College All-Star game and the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament following the season. Cummard led the Cougars in scoring (16.8 points per game), three-point percentage (38.7), free throw percentage (87.1) and blocks (30). He was also second on the team with 6.2 rebounds per game and 51.7 percent shooting from the field. Cummard finished the year ranked in the top-10 in eight statistical categories in the MWC. He concluded his BYU career ranking first in career games played and consecutive games played, fifth in consecutive games started, ninth in scoring, third in made threes, second in free throw percentage and sixth in career steals.
Fredette had the best season by a BYU point guard since Marty Haws averaged 18.5 points and 4.1 assists per game in 1990. Haws was also the last Cougar floor general to earn first-team all-conference honors. Fredette had one of the best statistical seasons of any player in the MWC, ranking in the top-five in five statistical categories, including scoring (5th), assists (3rd), free throw percentage (2nd), steals (2nd) and minutes played (4th). He was also eighth in assist/turnover ratio. He led the team in assists (4.1) and steals (1.5) and was second in scoring (16.2), three-point shooting (38.2 percent and 52 makes) and free throw shooting (84.7 percent and 116 makes) and third in field goal percentage (48.0 percent). With 780 career points he is on pace to become the 40th member of BYU’s 1,000-point club.
Tavernari, a three-time MWC honoree—including third-team honors in 2008 and freshman of the year recognition in 2007—was third on the team in scoring (15.7) and first in rebounding (7.2). He was third on the team shooting 38.1 percent from downtown and made 85 threes—the second most in a single season at BYU after he set the record with 88 treys in 2008. Tavernari was also second on the team with 49 steals. In the MWC he finished in the top-10 in six statistical categories including fourth in rebounding, third in steals, second in three-pointers per game and second in defensive rebounds per game. On the season Tavernari scored in double figures 26 times, had 20-plus points 10 times and registered a team-high seven double-doubles.
Emery contributed significantly to BYU’s success, starting 32 games and averaging 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds while finishing second on the team with 49 steals and third with 100 assists. Emery was fifth in the MWC in steals and first in assist/turnover ratio. He often came up big in the biggest games, notably in late season must-win situations when the MWC regular season title was on the line. Against New Mexico at home he posted a career-high 19 points while adding six rebounds, two steals and two assists. In BYU’s comeback win at San Diego State, Emery had 12 points, six boards, four assists and two steals. In the title-clinching victory against Air Force in the regular season finale he had 15 points, six rebounds and a career-best six steals.
Junior Chris Miles started 33 games at center and contributed 7.1 points per game, 4.0 rebounds and a team-best field goal percentage of 57.0 percent. He was also second on the team with 26 blocks and added 23 steals and 42 assists. Miles posted a career-high 24 points in a win over Cal Poly and had big games against Utah’s Luke Nevill, the MWC Player of the Year. In the 94-88 overtime loss in Salt Lake City he had 14 points, six rebounds and three steals and in the 63-50 win at home Miles posted 13 points, two blocks and tied his career-high with eight rebounds. He also limited Nevill to nine points.
Despite the bench players having limited game experience coming into the 2008-09 season, several players contributed and showed potential for playing bigger roles in the future. Junior guard Lamont Morgan, Jr., spelled Fredette and Emery at guard and led the bench players in scoring at 3.6 points per game. He also added 60 assists and 15 steals while shooting 41.2 percent from downtown. Freshman Charles Abouo contributed 2.9 points per game and added athleticism and several highlight reel-plays. One of his best games came against nationally ranked Wake Forest when he had 10 points and five rebounds.
Freshman James Anderson showed flashes of his potential as a scoring and defensive threat on the post. Against Boise State he had 10 points, seven boards and five blocks. At home against Colorado State he had a career-best 16 points to go with seven boards and two blocks. In a key MWC win at Wyoming he chipped in seven points and five boards and the conference semis he had six points and two blocks vs. San Diego State. Noah Hartsock, another freshman post player, came on strong late in the season. In BYU’s comeback win at San Diego State he had seven points, seven boards, a block and two steals. In the final two games of the season—the MWC semis and the NCAA tournament—he posted a combined 17 points, nine boards and three blocks.
BYU opened the 2008-09 season with 10-straight wins, including six at home that extended what was a school record and the nation’s best home winning streak to 53 games. Cummard dropped 36 on Long Beach State in the season opener and the Cougars won at Pepperdine before sweeping through the Basketball Travelers Invitational at the Marriott Center to improve to 5-0. After road wins at Idaho State and Weber State, BYU took down in-state rival Utah State 68-63 at Energy Solutions Arena. The Cougars then won two more home games against Boise State and Portland.
The perfect start ended with a one-point loss to the-No. 20 Arizona State at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. BYU led throughout the game before All-American James Harden hit a free throw with nine seconds remaining to put the Sun Devils up by one at 76-75. Charles Abouo’s tip at the buzzer was initially called good but after a review on the floor was waved off. The Cougars rebounded with a win at Tulsa led by Cummard’s 26 points.
The next week the home winning streak came to an end with a 94-87 loss to then-No. 6 Wake Forest. Fredette had a breakout game in the loss with 23 points—including 18 in the first half—and nine assists against All-American Jeff Teague. BYU concluded its non-conference schedule with a win at home against Western Oregon.
BYU started strong in MWC play, winning big at Colorado State and taking down TCU at home. The Cougars then headed to New Mexico looking to improve to 3-0 in the MWC for the first time under Rose. The Lobos had other plans, however, and handed BYU its worst loss of the season. With UNLV visiting the Marriott Center the Cougars looked to bounce back but the Rebels erased a 13-point halftime lead and BYU suffered its first home loss in conference play since 2005. The Cougars started another home-court winning streak with a win over San Diego State but fell the next week in overtime at Utah.
With a 3-3 record in conference play and a third-straight MWC regular season title slipping out of reach, BYU responded. As they had in the previous three seasons under Rose the Cougars ended the season on a tear, winning nine of 10—the only loss coming in a one-point defeat at UNLV. BYU started the run with a five-game winning streak that included home wins against Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico and road wins over Air Force and TCU. Following the UNLV loss the Cougars overcame a 14-point deficit to win at San Diego State behind 28-points from Fredette. Still trailing league-leader Utah by two games with three to play, BYU downed the Utes at home 63-50 behind another strong game from Fredette, who netted 25 points in the win.
After trimming the deficit in the league standings to one game, the Cougars won at Wyoming while Utah lost to New Mexico, creating a three-way tie between BYU, the Utes and the Lobos. On the final day of the regular season Utah and New Mexico won early in the day to secure a share of the title for each team. The Cougars took on Air Force in front of a sold-out Marriott Center in the nightcap and pulled away in the final minute of the game to seal the victory and a share of the MWC title.
BYU opened the postseason with an 80-69 win over Air Force in the first round of the MWC tournament to give the Cougars their 10th win in 11 games. In the semifinals BYU failed to advance to a third-straight conference tournament title game, falling short against San Diego State. Two days later the Cougars learned they had received the program’s 24th berth to the NCAA tournament. For the second-straight season BYU faced Texas A&M as the No. 8 seed, this time in Philadelphia. Unfortunately for the Cougars the outcome was the same as 2008 as the Aggies eliminated BYU 79-66 in the first round.