BYU’s record-setting regular season in the Mountain West Conference has propelled the Cougars back into the Top 25 for the first time since December.
In order to advance to the league’s semifinals, they’ll need only to beat a team that set a more dubious record.
BYU will look for its 14th win in 15 games when it faces Colorado State on Thursday in Las Vegas in the Mountain West quarterfinals, with the Rams fresh off ending a 17-game losing streak.
The 24th-ranked Cougars (25-6) set a school record for regular-season wins and a conference record for wins in Mountain West play, earning the top seed in the league’s tournament for the second straight season.
They’ve likely already locked up an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but they’ll begin seeking their first conference tournament title since 2001 against Colorado State (7-24), which became the first team to go winless—0-16—in the Mountain West since the league’s schedule expanded to 16 games in 2005-06.
The Rams beat Wyoming 68-63 on Wednesday for their first win since an 87-47 victory over Division II Western State on Dec. 29.
BYU won 15 games between Colorado State wins, including a pair of triumphs over the Rams. The Cougars had dropped out of the national rankings after a loss to Boise State on Dec. 29, but they returned to the polls this week, having won the last four games of the regular season.
They won 61-54 at TCU on Saturday. The Cougars shot just 35.2 percent, but held the Horned Frogs to 29.0 percent shooting.
“Defensively, especially the last 10 or 12 minutes, it was five players playing together, guarding together and competing together,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “The way we executed defensively was as good as we have in quite a while.”
Jonathan Tavernari had 17 points while Mountain West co-player of the year Lee Cummard added 16 against TCU. Center Trent Plaisted, who leads BYU with 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds, had just nine points after scoring at least 20 in the previous three games.
Plaisted averaged 23 points in two games against Colorado State this season.
But the Rams finally snapped their skid Wednesday, stunning the Cowboys behind 22 points from Marcus Walker and 18 from Andre McFarland. Adam Nigon added 10 and made the key play when he stripped Wyoming’s Brandon Ewing to preserve a one-point lead in the final minute.
“It finally felt like we could win,” Colorado State coach Tim Miles said. “Down the stretch, we made the plays and started believing we are going to do this.”
Miles said he liked the way Colorado State matched up with BYU in the Rams’ 79-65 loss to the Cougars on Feb. 13. BYU led by just three at the half before pulling away, as 7-foot Colorado State center Stuart Creason had 24 points before fouling out.
“We didn’t have a bad game against them last time,” Miles said.
Walker, a junior college transfer, leads the Rams with 17.2 points per game.
The winner of this game faces either San Diego State or Air Force in a conference semifinal on Friday.