Associated Press

While the BYU women's basketball team shines, the state's men's basketball teams fall. And the Cougars aren't the only successful female athletes from Utah. The University of Utah Red Rocks lead a pack of women's gymnastic teams from the state into the NCAA regionals. Meanwhile, the Jazz talk about tanking and we take a look back at the first four, days of the NCAA tournament and look at the week ahead. Oh, and Jabari Parker is overrated.

Carrying the flag for Utah
Associated Press

Nobody believed in the BYU Cougars. Despite having the WCC Player of the Year and other quality players, despite several impressive wins this season, the Cougs entered the NCAA tournament as an undervalued double-digit seed.

When it mattered most on the court, though, BYU went out and proved itself with a hard-nosed, dominant victory to open the NCAA tournament versus the talented women from North Carolina State.

What? You thought we were talking about the other BYU basketball team?

We’ll get there after we talk about the top college basketball team in the state.

The BYU women, entering the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed, jumped all over fifth-seeded North Carolina State, winning easily 72-57.

The Cougars were led by the usual suspects, Jennifer Hamson and Lexi Eaton, but got solid contributions from other players as well.

Hamson, the WCC Player of the Year, came within one blocked shot of a triple-double, racking up a phenomenal 19 rebounds and nine blocks to go along with 12 points and zero turnovers in 36 minutes.

Eaton, a sophomore all-conference performer in her own right, came up huge as well with 25 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in 37 minutes.

Junior forward Morgan Bailey and sophomore guard Kylie Maeda supported Hamson and Eaton with a combined 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 18 rebounds.

BYU coach Jeff Judkins, unlike men’s coach Dave Rose, relied heavily on his starters, playing them for 176 of the 200 available minutes (88 percent).

As a team, the Cougar women held the opposing Wolfpack to just 20 field goals on 73 attempts (27 percent), outrebounded them 52-37 and blocked 15 of their shots.

Before Eric Mika leaves on his mission, BYU coaches should see if he can spend some time learning defense from Hamson. In fact, the whole men’s team, which gave up 27 field goals on 54 attempts to Oregon and blocked zero shots, should be forced to watch tape of their female counterparts.

The Cougar men have 15 blocks in their last eight games combined.

Hamson had nine blocks in 36 minutes versus North Carolina State. Mika had nine blocks over his last 356 minutes of playing time (14 games).

There are probably several reasons for that discrepancy, but effort and a focus on defense from the coaching staff are certainly part of it.

The Cougar women play fourth-seeded Nebraska (26-6, 12-4 Big Ten) on Monday at 7 p.m. MDT, with the game televised on ESPN2. The Cougs haven’t been in the second round of the NCAA tournament since 2006 and will be trying to reach the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history.

The Cornhuskers are led by Big Ten Player of the Year senior forward Jordan Hooper. Hooper, an inside-outside threat with a school record 289 3-pointers, led Nebraska to its first-ever conference tournament title this season with her 39th career double-double. She averages 20.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

Nebraska reached the Sweet 16 last year before losing to second-seeded Duke.

The BYU women are now carrying the basketball flag for the entire state of Utah as the only team left standing.

Strange ending to a strange season
Associated Press

The Cougs overcame a nearly disastrous first half, where at one point their lineup was Tyler Haws on the court with Luke Worthington, Josh Sharp, Frank Bartley IV and Skyler Halford, and where they trailed 39-24 at the 3:07 mark, to cut the Oregon lead to just three at 53-56 with under 12 minutes remaining.

Everything looked to be going BYU’s way. Matt Carlino had his tongue wagging after hitting two threes, the Cougs were celebrating like they just made the NCAA tournament, and the Ducks were frustrated for letting BYU back in it.

After that, Oregon went on a 28-8 run and the game was over.

It was a strange ending to a strange season for BYU and coach Dave Rose, who summed up the whole season quite well in his halftime TV interview when he said of the first half versus Oregon: “We played a lot of different lineups.”

Indeed the Cougars did play a lot of lineups versus Oregon and throughout the season. It was quite strange to see Worthington, Sharp, Halford and Bartley combine to play 61 minutes in BYU’s most important game of the season. This is not a knock on those players as much as it is a knock on the coaching staff.

Rose and his staff wasted many opportunities this season to get those guys more minutes and experience. For example, in writing the report card analysis of the Cougs’ home victory over Prairie View A&M on Dec. 11, 2013, I gave the Cougar coaching staff just a C- grade despite the 100-52 win, saying:

“While the temptation is to look at the score of the game and give out all A+ grades, this game was a severely wasted opportunity to get Worthington some serious playing time. The game was never in doubt. Why not put Worthington in with the score at 15-6 four minutes in to get him some meaningful minutes? Why not let him play 10-12 straight minutes there, barring a complete collapse by the team? Why not get him another 12-15 minutes in the second half? This guy, a true freshman, is your first and only big man off the bench. What better no-risk opportunity could there possibly be to put him out there, let him work up a real sweat, make a few mistakes and learn a few lessons?

"It makes no sense.

"There were opportunities there for other guys like Anson Winder to play more as well. Did (Kyle) Collinsworth really need 34 minutes in this game, which were more than double Winder’s minutes?

"These things matter over the course of a season. These things help players develop and teams establish depth. This wasted opportunity was a bigger deal than the margin of victory in the game.”

Not to toot my own horn, but that analysis was downright prophetic based on how the season and that last game played out. Almost everybody on BYU’s team this season was jerked around in terms of playing time at one point or another.

Against Oregon, Sharp played 23 minutes, his third-highest total of the season. In those 23 minutes he had zero points, three fouls and just three rebounds. For some reason, he actually started the second half in place of Nate Austin, despite the fact Austin had been more effective and active in the first half than Sharp.

Austin had one rebound for every three minutes he played. Sharp had one rebound every seven minutes.

Yes, we all know the Cougars’ best player, Kyle Collinsworth, was out with injury vs. Oregon, but did that mean Sharp deserved to play 23 minutes? He played just three minutes the previous game vs. Gonzaga and didn’t even get off the bench in games earlier in the season. If a guy can play, he can play. If he can’t, he can’t. If he can’t, then you don’t play him 23 minutes and start him in the second half of your biggest game of the season.

Bartley, Worthington and Halford went through the exact same thing this season too. So did Anson Winder.

Ultimately, the finale for the Cougs was perfectly fitting for their season. There are too many storylines for this team to cover all of them in this one column. Stay tuned this offseason.


Wildcats go down fighting
Associated Press

The Wildcats from Ogden took on the top-seeded Wildcats from Tucson, Ariz., on Friday and came a heck of a lot closer to beating them than the Pac-12 Utes had eight days earlier.

Of course that is not saying much.

Weber State actually led Arizona 7-0 after five minutes and trailed just 15-16 after 10, before Arizona went on a 16-5 run to close the half.

After trailing by as many as 21 points in the second half, Weber got it back to an 11-point game with five minutes left on a Davion Berry 3-pointer before running out of time and losing 59-68.

Berry, the Big Sky Player of the Year, had 24 points but made only 5-of-20 field goals (1-of-12 on 2-pointers) and had just two assists and two rebounds. The Wildcats lose Berry to graduation but return sophomore Joel Bolomboy, who registered 11 points and 16 rebounds vs. Arizona, along with some other capable players next season.


2 bad games, 1 successful season
Associated Press

Yes, I picked the Utes to win two NIT games and yes Cougar fans let me hear about that after the Utes fell apart late vs. Saint Mary’s and blew yet another road game this season.

It’s a shame the Utes couldn’t grab that 4-seed and have the game at home. Based on their season, they probably would have won by 20 in the Huntsman Center. I guess that’s why you don’t lose 71-39 in your conference tournament.

Utah jumped out to a big 11-0 lead within the first four minutes of the game and it looked like the Utes might do to Saint Mary’s what they did to BYU earlier this season. That obviously didn’t happen, largely because of a rare off-night from Delon Wright, but the Utes still led 30-23 at the half and 44-35 with nine minutes to go.

In the last nine minutes, however, Saint Mary’s equaled its point total from the first 31 minutes and outscored the Utes 35-14.

The Utes outplayed the Gaels in just about every statistic except turnovers, with 21 to just 11 assists, led by Wright with six turnovers and guard Brandon Taylor with five.

The last two games were a bad ending for a successful season at Utah.


First round fallout
Associated Press

Utah Valley

The Wolverines, a 7-seed in the NIT, led second-seeded California 23-20 after a Holton Hunsaker 3-pointer 10 minutes into the game. Cal finished the half on a 23-11 run to lead by nine at the break, but Utah Valley kept itself within striking distance and trailed just 43-49 with 15 minutes left.

Unfortunately the Golden Bears quickly took over from there and the Wolverines didn’t threaten again.

Nevertheless it was a tremendous season for the scrappy bunch from Orem. The Wolverines were led by seniors Hunsaker and center Ben Aird against Cal and throughout the season. Against the Golden Bears, Hunsaker and Aird combined for 41 points on 15-of-30 shooting, while the rest of the team shot just 10-of-31.

Westminster

The top-seeded Westminster women’s team advanced to the quarterfinals of the NAIA Division 1 Women’s Basketball National Championship Tournament before losing to 3-seed Wiley from Marshall, Texas, on Saturday.

The Westminster men lost Wednesday to 11-seed Benedictine in the first round of the national tournament, 65-70. The Griffins finished the season with a record of 19-13.


More girl power
Courtesy of BYU Athletics

Utah gymnastics

The Utah women’s gymnastics team dominated the Pac-12 gymnastics championship Saturday, following up on its big victory over Georgia the week prior.

The Utes tied the seventh-best score in school history with a 197.925, beating second-place Stanford and the rest of the field by nearly a full point.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Utes won four of the five individual championships and swept the season awards, with the Marsdens splitting Coach of the Year, Tory Wilson (who won the all-around title) winning Gymnast of the Year and Georgia Dabritz (who scored a perfect 10 on bars) taking Specialist of the Year.

The Utes can enjoy the victory until April 5 when NCAA regionals get started.

SUU, BYU, USU

The Utes weren’t the only local women’s gymnastics team in action Saturday. Southern Utah, BYU and Utah State competed together in the Mountain Rim gymnastics championship, won by the University of Denver. No. 17 Boise State came in second.

Southern Utah took third with a season-high 196.125, narrowly besting BYU’s 196.1 and Utah State’s season-high of 196.075.

All three Utah schools have already qualified for the NCAA regionals.


The Jazz still don't get it
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In a great article by Jazz beat writer Jody Genessy on Friday, he quoted Richard Jefferson and Tyrone Corbin sharing their thoughts on “tanking” and how stupid fans are that think tanking is a good idea.

According the article, Jefferson said: “It’s stupid; it’s like urban legends. … At the end of the day, you need to develop the guys that you have, you need to build a winning tradition, and you need to build winning habits starting within your organization. … Any fan that thinks their team is better off losing, you don’t understand. … If you get a better player and you teach these guys losing habits, where is your organization going to be then?”

Coach Corbin said: “It makes your skin crawl as a competitor, personally. But it seems to be a popular thing nowadays for some people. … Everybody has an opinion of what (we) should be doing, but they don’t have any idea of what it takes to go through this.”

A commenter with the alias “There You Go Again” made an excellent comment on the article, quoting Jefferson and Corbin and saying:

“Develop the guys you have … build a winning tradition … build winning habits. Sounds great. By the way, when will the Jazz begin to implement this plan?”

Corbin may be right that people who have never been there (fans and media members) don’t know what it feels like to go through an NBA season or career, but I bet a lot of fans have been through things much more difficult and less rewarding than playing in the NBA.

More to the point, Jefferson and Corbin aren’t talking about the same thing that the rational fans and media members have wanted to see from this team. It was never about losing on purpose. As I detailed recently, and have touched on multiple times in discussing how the Jazz have screwed things up this season, it was about playing the young lottery picks on the team starter's minutes and letting the standings fall where they may.

If the Jazz had done that, it would have been nearly a no-lose situation. Either you win and gain confidence to build on this young core, or you lose productively and get a better asset in the draft.

Again, it was never about losing on purpose, which is what “tanking” is. If Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Trey Burke were already advanced enough to win games this season, then what would the point be of losing on purpose just to get another young player?

Dear Jazz organization: Your fans are not nearly as dumb as you seem to think they are.

Around the state
Matt Gage, Deseret News

Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake played to a draw with the L.A. Galaxy in its home opener at a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday. RSL now has one win and two draws on the young season.

Alvaro Saborio scored the goal for RSL, with an assist from Joao Plata. Plata has been outstanding through three games with two goals and two assists, but came out with an unsettling hamstring injury midway through the first half vs. L.A. “Not sure how long it’s going to be, but it’s a little concerning,” said head coach Jeff Cassar of the injury to Plata.

Here’s the Deseret News’ report card from the L.A. game and a link to its MLS power rankings, with RSL checking in at No. 3.

Other local links

BYU volleyball and megastar Taylor Sander continued to roll last week.

BYU rugby beat Utah Valley.

The Utah Grizzlies have won four straight hockey games and are one of the hottest teams in the league.

The Salt Lake Bees could feature another future superstar (ala Mike Trout) to start the season in first baseman CJ Cron.

Zac Stout and Brian Blechen look for redemption this upcoming football season with the Cougs and Utes.

Utah State men’s basketball had two players leave the program.

BYU track continued to churn out the All-Americans.

Phenomenal madness
Associated Press

Through the first two major rounds, the men’s NCAA tournament has been absolutely phenomenal.

The tourney kicked off with 11-seed Dayton beating Ohio State in a nail-biter and just got better from there. Four of the final eight games on Thursday went to overtime and the Texas vs. Arizona State game might as well have.

Dayton, Harvard (No. 12 seed) and North Dakota State (No. 12) were the big upset winners on Thursday.

Friday kicked off with 14-seed Mercer stunning Duke 78-71 in a classic and included 12-seed SF Austin beating VCU in overtime after pulling off an impossibly ridiculous four-point play with seconds left.

On Saturday, Dayton followed up its upset of Ohio State with an even bigger upset of Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16. Wisconsin rallied to beat Oregon, Michigan State held off Harvard and 7-seed Connecticut sent 2-seed Villanova home early.

Sunday saw BYU’s early season conquest, the Stanford Cardinal, defeat 2-seed Kansas and freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins, who had as many turnovers as points. Also on Sunday, Kentucky knocked off undefeated Wichita State in dramatic fashion while Iowa State did the same to North Carolina, and 6-seed Baylor devastated 3-seed Creighton by 30.

Looking at my bracket (published in last week’s edition of this column), I have six of my eight Elite 8 teams still alive and all of my Final 4. I don’t believe in creating multiple brackets, and mine is currently in the 83rd percentile on ESPN.

My best picks so far were Connecticut and Baylor getting to the Sweet 16. Of course I also picked Oregon to beat BYU, which caused numerous Cougar fans to claim I was no doubt a Ute fan (despite the fact I predicted BYU would win the national championship in 2018-19 and picked both Cougar teams to win their conference tournaments this year).

My worst picks were Kansas and Wichita State making the Elite 8, as both lost in excruciatingly close games in the second round. I was particularly saddened by Kentucky beating Wichita State. How do you not cheer against Kentucky and John Calipari?

Overall, through 48 games (not including the play-in round), the higher seeds have gone 35-13. The tournament picks back up Thursday with 11-seed Dayton taking on 10-seed Stanford.


Crystal ball predictions
Associated Press

Last week

Considering the NCAA tournament as a separate prediction, in my other predictions from last week I went just 4-2. I missed on the Utah vs. Saint Mary’s and the Jazz vs. Magic games, while I correctly predicted the BYU women upsetting NC State, the BYU men losing to Oregon, the Jazz losing to the Grizzlies and Utah Valley losing to Cal.

This brings my total record on predictions so far to 61-19 and ended my perfect record on picking Utah men’s basketball games (had been 11-0)

This week’s crystal ball

BYU women’s basketball: 1-1 (The Cougars will win over Nebraska Monday night before unfortunately running up against top-seeded Connecticut on Saturday in the Sweet 16).

Utah Jazz: 1-3 (The Jazz open up a two-game winning streak by beating the Pistons at home Monday before losing to the Grizzlies, Pelicans and Thunder to finish off the week).

NCAA tournament (the two games I now have no chance to win on my bracket): Stanford over Dayton, Louisville over Kentucky.

NIT: California over Arkansas Monday night.

NBA: The Jimmer-hating Bulls will lose at home to the Pacers Monday night (Jimmer has not played a single minute the last five games for Chicago).

NBA: The Thunder will get revenge on the Mavericks Tuesday night for embarrassing them in Oklahoma City on March 16.

NBA: The Pacers will lose at home to the Heat Wednesday night.

NBA: The Jimmer-hating Bulls will win at home vs. the Blazers Friday night.

NBA: The Sixers will end their losing streak by winning at home over the Pistons Saturday.

NBA: The Rockets will beat the Clippers Saturday.

Jabari Parker is overrated
Associated Press

This is a long-term prediction that is nothing more than just a gut feeling at the moment. I have no basis for what I am about to say other than my natural reaction to watching Jabari Parker play a handful of times this season and once in high school.

I think he is overrated.

If I had just watched Duke a handful of times this season without knowing anything about Parker, I would not have identified him as a franchise-changing NBA prospect. He did not jump off the screen at me. Many times I noticed him more for bad plays (soft defense, no passing, not playing in the flow of the game) than I did for good plays.

It could very well be that I just watched the wrong games and that if I had seen many of his other games I would have seen what the hype is all about. But I didn’t see it the few times I did watch.

It’s a bad sign that Coach K thinks so little of his defense that he actually substituted him out on defense at the end of Duke’s embarrassing loss to Mercer (a team 11-seed Tennessee beat by 20 points in the Round of 32 Sunday).

In that Mercer game, Parker was 4-of-14 from the field with zero assists, seven rebounds, one steal, four turnovers and four fouls in 28 minutes.

Maybe it’s just that Parker is a freshman. Maybe the subtle body language things I think I’ve observed that have made me feel like there are some insecurity issues with him will go away or maybe I am totally wrong.

I hope I am wrong, because by all indications Parker is a tremendous kid and it would be excellent to have more NBA superstars like him.

If the Jazz are picking between No. 5 and No. 10, I would feel great about them picking up Jabari simply based on the consensus that seems to exist about his talent. As a top-five pick, I’d be worried about it based on what I’ve seen in limited observation thus far.