BYU, ex-Gorman standout Tavernari seek to upset Kansas State on Saturday


OKLAHOMA CITY -- It might appear that Brigham Young has already accomplished its mission in this NCAA Tournament by winning one game. Senior forward Jonathan Tavernari insists otherwise.

The Cougars had lost seven consecutive first-round games, going winless since 1993, before outlasting Florida 99-92 in double overtime Thursday.

Tavernari, a former Bishop Gorman High School standout, said the streak was a burden all BYU players were carrying.

"We finally did it. I think that is taking loads of monkeys off our back," he said. "Now that we got a taste a little bit, we want to taste it again. We're just enjoying the moment."

The Cougars probably felt like cutting down the nets at the Ford Center after the victory, but their time to celebrate is brief.

Seventh-seeded BYU (30-5) is about to run into a bigger obstacle. No. 2 Kansas State (27-7) awaits at about 5 p.m. today in the West Region second round. The winner advances to Salt Lake City.

"I don't know if pressure is the right word, but there was a lot riding on these first-round games the last few years as far as our inability to advance," Cougars coach Dave Rose said. "I think getting that first-round win can help our confidence. Great things can happen for any basketball team at this time that's still in the tournament."

The Wildcats, who blasted North Texas 82-62 in the first round, possess distinct advantages in size and strength, and veteran guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente give all opponents fits.

Pullen and Clemente combined for 50 points when Kansas State abused UNLV in a 95-80 victory Dec. 12 in Las Vegas.

"I watch a lot of college basketball," Rose said. "You would be hard-pressed to find a backcourt as fast, as talented, as quick, as skilled as their backcourt."

Rose said BYU's "biggest issue" will be rebounding. The Cougars were whipped inside by Florida, which totaled 20 offensive rebounds.

But the Cougars' backcourt is always a wild card. Junior guard Jimmer Fredette, who poured in 37 points in the first round, is flanked by starters Jackson Emery and Tyler Haws.

Tavernari and Michael Loyd Jr. bring a Las Vegas flair off the bench. Loyd, a redshirt sophomore guard from Palo Verde High, produced 26 points and four steals in Thursday's victory.

"People were giving us negativity and saying, 'You guys haven't done this and you haven't done that.' We won and now it's all positive feedback," Loyd said.

Loyd was lightly recruited in high school. He said UNLV showed "maybe a little bit" of interest. The Rebels had signed Bishop Gorman's Marcus Lawrence, who was eventually dismissed from the team, and Loyd was forced to look elsewhere.

"(UNLV) had just got a point guard the year before me," Loyd said. "Maybe they wish they could take it back.

"I was never really a complete player. I had some talent. But I still have a long way to go."

Tavernari knows the end of his BYU career is near. It could end today, or it could continue to Salt Lake City.

Tavernari was the Nevada high school scoring leader in his one year at Gorman, averaging 23.1 points. The Brazilian is a quick-triggered shooter who runs scalding hot and ice cold.

He hit two 3-pointers against Florida. But he also missed two ill-advised 3s early in the first overtime and landed a spot on the bench.

An enigmatic player and colorful personality, Tavernari shrugged off questions about possibly playing his final college game today.

"If people want to put us as the underdogs, go ahead and do it," Tavernari said. "We love being the underdogs. The pressure is on Kansas State. This game presents tons and tons of challenges for us, but we welcome it."

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

 

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