LAS VEGAS -- Trent Plaisted took one more shot -- at himself -- after misfiring from the stripe so many times.
Plaisted tied his career-high with 27 points in the 23rd-ranked Cougars' 96-84 win over Wyoming in the Mountain West semifinals Friday night that sent BYU to the conference championship for the first time since 2001.Plaisted and the Cougars can only imagine how good the sophomore center would be if he could just knock down more free throws.He didn't offer up any excuses, such as tired legs from back-to-back big games or tournament jitters."You know, there's not really much you can attribute it to. I didn't step up and knock 'em down when I needed to," Plaisted said after hitting just 7-of-16 free throws. "I'll do better tomorrow."He'll get that chance because he hit 10-of-13 shots from the floor and helped the Cougars build a cushion too large for the Cowboys to overcome. BYU advanced to the final Saturday against No. 25 UNLV.The Cougars (25-7) missed 16 foul shots overall, making for a tense final few minutes after building a 25-point first-half lead. The Cowboys kept chipping away at their 19-point halftime deficit until Eric Platt's 3-pointer off the glass pulled Wyoming to 87-80 with 1:05 left.Suddenly, the Cougars were sweating out all those errant foul shots, the only flaw in an otherwise well-oiled team that is primed for some success in the NCAA Tournament.Lee Cummard, a defensive specialist who scored 21 points, more than double his average, sank two free throws, and Mike Rose sank one of two for a 90-80 lead.Wyoming (17-15) got 23 points each from Jones and Brandon Ewing, the only sophomore in the school's history to top 1,000 points. Platt scored 13.Cummard surpassed his scoring average, nine points, in the first five minutes, hitting 3-pointers from both sides, stealing the ball at midcourt for a slam dunk and racing down for another fastbreak basket that gave the Cougars a lightning-quick 17-5 lead.Three straight baby hooks and a three-point play, all by Plaisted, put the Cowboys in a 29-6 hole and the Cougars took a 54-35 lead into the locker room."We knew in the second half it would be a different story," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "Players realize that the season's over if you don't win and it changes the mind-set. I think they came out in the second half with great determination. I think we were real fortunate we played as well as we did in the first half."Ewing said the Cowboys were determined to extend their season, but BYU's lead was too large."That (nearly) 20-point deficit at halftime really hurt us a lot," he said. "If we were able to cut it down to 10 at halftime we probably would have come up with the win."The Cowboys didn't help themselves out at the line, either, going 15-for-28."We've been a good free-throw shooting team all year," Wyoming coach Steve McClain said. "Some nights you're going to have them roll in and out, and we had a few of those tonight."So did Plaisted, who has a chance to make up for it Saturday.