We've seen this before.
Whether it's football or basketball or women's ice dancing (we have a women's ice dancing team, right?), there's a pronounced pattern in big BYU sporting events. It's a four-step process:
1. The Cougars go down early, causing much weaping and wailing and gnashing of teeth among fans. Many emotionally detach themselves from the game in protest.
2. The Cougars fight back valiantly, inspiring small seeds of hope to be planted in the bosom of supporters everywhere. The emotional detachment diminishes.
3. The Cougars finally take the lead! Victory is imminent! Every BYU girl and boy once again believes and becomes emotionally invested in the game's outcome.
4. The Cougars lose, usually in the most heartbreaking of fashions. With their seedlings of hope sufficiently crushed, BYU fans are brought even lower than they would have been had their team lost by 40.
If you stayed up late to catch the end of BYU taking on San Diego State in the Maui Invitational, you saw the latest painful chapter in this epic, never-ending story.
The Cougars started slow and ceded control of the game to the Aztecs in the early-going, before scrapping and clawing their way back into contention with a strong second half showing. They ultimately forced overtime, where they came out firing and played well enough to hold a five-point lead with under a minute to go. But of course, our old friend Murphy and his pesky law came to visit once again, and BYU managed to lose their lead and — ultimately, in double overtime — the game.
Sound familiar? It's a vicious cycle — and the result is immensely difficult to swallow, for players and fans alike. Tyler Haws succinctly summed up the way everyone is feeling right about now in his post-game comments:
"This one just hurts. We had our chances to win the game, but we've got to bounce back."
This one just hurts. That's about all you can say if you're associated with or care about the BYU basketball program in any way, shape or form. There's no other way to put it more clearly. Preach, Brother Haws. Preach.
There was a ton at stake in this game — not only a much-needed neutral court win against a Top 25 team that would have looked great on the Cougars' resume come March, but also a chance to avoid playing RPI-killer Chaminade tomorrow on the losers' side of the bracket. BYU got neither, and that hurts. It should.
But let's not allow our momentary suffering to obscure the bigger picture here. Yes, this is a big loss — and it hurts especially badly because it was almost a monumentally huge win. But it's still just one game (or maybe two, if you count having to play Chaminade tomorrow now). But this isn't BYU's last game of the season, or even their last chance to pick up a big statement win. There are several more opportunities coming — including Utah, Stanford, Massachusetts, and Gonzaga at least twice.
Would it have been great to notch one early? Sure. Should BYU have done so considering the circumstances of this game? Definitely. But even so, this is not a cataclysmic event. It hurts. Badly. But now's not the time for doomsaying — this isn't football. The season's not over after one loss. There's another game in less than 14 hours, and it's time to learn from these mistakes and (to use Haws' words) bounce back.
That last part is the most important one. If BYU can learn from what transpired tonight in Maui and find a way to break the vicious cycle (or at least hold it at bay) moving forward, then this loss — while still no less painful — will not be for naught. Coach Dave Rose understands this, and while he's undeniably disappointed in the result (as are we all), he also grasps the bigger picture at play here.
"As a result of this game, you'd love to have a win against a nationally ranked team early in the season. What we need to do is make sure our guys learned from what happened here," Rose said in his postgame press conference. "I mean, we made some big plays. Then they made some big plays against us, and plays we're capable of. We got the block late in the game with the three-point lead, I think, and didn't secure the ball. Got it taken from us, and the guy steps back hits the three and tied the game. I think those are all things we can learn from."
There's a lot of good stuff to be taken from this game. BYU showed that they can compete with and, realistically, beat Top 25-caliber teams in tough environments (though the arena was evenly split, SDSU fans controlled the atmosphere from the get-go and never let up) — and that isn't something I would have necessarily said prior to tip-off. Kyle Collinsworth played 45 minutes on his surgically repaired knee and looked dang good doing it (21 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists). Tyler Haws fought through early adversity and a hefty helping of physical off-ball defense to make a bunch of huge shots down the stretch. Isaac Neilson made a strong case for becoming the team's new starting power forward. And after that initial period of shell-shock, the Cougars acquitted themselves fairly well against a long, athletic, pressure-oriented team — something they've struggled to do in the past.
Of course, none of those things are as satisfying as a win over the Aztecs would have been. And there are plenty of downsides to look at too — the bad rebounding, the second chance points, the boneheaded mistakes down the stretch and the questionable shot selection on key possessions, to name just a few. But these are all things that can conceivably be addressed — and the ultimate measure of the worth of this game now hinges on how well Rose and his staff teach those lessons to their team before the next time the Cougars find themselves in a close game with a good opponent.
With several such opportunities on the way in the next month, we shouldn't have to wait too long to find out if the teachers are successful. It just might hurt a bit (or a lot) in the meantime. But hey, we're used to it by now — after all, we've seen this before.