BYU-Hawaii finds motivation in losses
Seasiders use past setbacks to reach first Elite Eight
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Rory Patterson never forgot what it felt like to lose to Cal Poly Pomona in the 2010 West Regional championship game. The BYU-Hawaii senior forward remembered the sting of a 78-75 loss the Broncos, who went on to win the national championship while the Seasiders were forced to deal with their third consecutive loss in a regional final.
Cal Poly Pomona drove a dagger through the heart of the Seasiders two years ago as well, winning 59-58 in Hawaii before finishing as the national runner-up after a 56-53 loss to No. 1 Findlay in the title game.
“We felt like we had a great opportunity to win the regional last year,“ Patterson said. “Losing it left us with bitter feelings. We used it as motivation for this season.”
That motivation has taken the Seasiders all the way to Springfield, Mass., where they will play in the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. Three years of disappointment in the regional faded away last week when BYU-Hawaii knocked off Dixie State 79-73 in the championship game of the regional tournament.
They are still adjusting to the five-hour difference in time, and despite being travel-weary after a long flight across the country, the Seasiders (20-8) are thrilled about finally breaking through to the Elite Eight. They open play against Bloomfield (24-8), the East Region champion, at 8:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday in a matchup between two No. 7 seeds at the MassMutual Center.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” senior guard Marques Whippy said. “I don’t think anyone believed we would come this far. We knew we had the talent and ability to make it here, and after coming up short before, we really wanted to get the job done this time.”
The interesting thing is that this might not even be the best team BYU-Hawaii has had during the 21 seasons Ken Wagner has been the head coach. Wagner has guided his teams to nine appearances in the NCAA tournament and has had only one losing season.
“We’ve had teams with maybe more talent and more size, but these guys have worked very hard to get to where they are today,” Wagner said. “But we do have good depth and good experience, and I thought that if we played up to our potential, we would have a chance to compete for a championship.”
BYU-Hawaii didn’t even win its own conference championship, the Pacific West, but it found a way to play its best basketball at the right time of the year.
The run to Springfield started with a stunning 83-76 win against second-seeded Cal State-Dominguez Hills in the opening round of the regional. For the Seasiders, the victory was special, especially after getting rocked 81-54 by the Toros during the regular season.
“The win gave us a lot of confidence because they had beaten us so badly earlier in the year,” Patterson said. “I think we peaked at the right time and we proved we could play well as a team.”
The Seasiders knocked off Alaska-Anchorage 100-91 in the semifinal round before taking down Dixie State in the championship game.
“We were disappointed with the way things ended last season but we knew that we could put ourselves in a a position to be successful,” senior guard Heath Gameren said. “We played well as a team during the tournament. That was the key for us. If we can keep it going, we have a chance to be successful this week.”
Wagner is quick to point out that this team wouldn’t be in Springfield now preparing for the Elite Eight if it wasn’t for the play of Whippy, Patterson and Gameren, the only seniors on the roster.
“They are the reason we are here this week,” Wagner said. “I’m proud of the effort they have given and it’s great that they have an opportunity to finally play in an Elite Eight.”
Ending their careers with a national championship would be the ultimate thrill for the seniors. Only time will tell if that dream comes true.
What the seniors do know is that they will at least give themselves a shot at the title.
“We have to be confident in our abilities,” Patterson said. “We just have to play our style of basketball and play with confidence. We were tested in our regional and we hope that experience pays off for us.”