Despite losing to the nation’s top-ranked team its last time out, BYU still managed to make its earliest appearance in the Top 25 in 27 years.
The 21st-ranked Cougars look to bounce back from their tough loss and avoid a letdown as a ranked team when they visit Portland on Saturday.
BYU (5-1) faced a daunting schedule in last weekend’s Las Vegas Invitational, and nearly came away with its perfect record intact.
After knocking off then-No. 6 Louisville 78-76 last Friday - the highest-ranked team beaten by the Cougars since 1965 - BYU nearly upset No. 1 North Carolina in Saturday’s championship game. The Cougars struggled down the stretch, missing six of their final seven shots as the Tar Heels finished the game on an 11-2 run to win 73-63.
“We fought hard and battled, (but) we didn’t execute offensively down the stretch,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “(Fatigue) might have been a factor. … We’re disappointed, because we had opportunities. I’m impressed with this group, how competitive and how hard we played.”
Voters were also impressed with their effort, putting the Cougars into the Top 25 in consecutive years for the first time since 1980-81 and 1981-82.
Last season, BYU entered the AP poll at No. 21 on Feb. 19 - the first time it was ranked since 1993. The Cougars’ current ranking is their earliest since they were ranked 18th in the 1980-81 AP preseason poll.
“(The ranking) is something we can build on,” Rose told the school’s official Web site. “We have a lot of work to do and need to keep improving as a team to get ready for the Mountain West Conference season.”
The Cougars, who were picked to finish first in the Mountain West, are looking to continue their best start since going 7-1 in 2003-04.
“It’s important to us that we’re not on the mountaintop, but we’re on our way up,” junior center Trent Plaisted said.
BYU is led by the aggressive inside-outside combination of Plaisted and sophomore forward Jonathan Tavernari.
Plaisted finished with season highs of 24 points and 17 rebounds against North Carolina for his second straight double-double. He is averaging team highs of 18.5 points and 8.7 rebounds this season.
Tavernari scored 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting from 3-point range against the Tar Heels, and is averaging 16.5 points on 44.7 percent shooting (21-of-47) from beyond the arc. He scored a career-high 29 in the win over Louisville.
Junior Lee Cummard is third on the Cougars in scoring, averaging 13.5 points. He scored a team-high 14 in last season’s 79-50 win over Portland.
Last season’s victory over the Pilots was the first meeting between the two schools since 1958. BYU leads the all-time series 2-1.
Portland (2-5), of the West Coast Conference, dropped its second straight with a 78-73 loss to crosstown rival Portland State on Wednesday.
Freshman Nik Raivio scored a career-high 20 on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, while senior forward Sherrard Watson also scored 20 and grabbed six rebounds. Watson leads the Pilots with 12.3 points per game.
“The loss is disappointing, but I’m proud of our team’s effort,” Portland coach Eric Reveno told the school’s official Web site.
The Pilots lost to then-No. 11 Oregon 85-61 on Nov. 17, and have dropped 15 straight games to ranked opponents since 2000.