Provo • BYU basketball coaches arrived at practice Tuesday afternoon worried that the Cougars would have trouble focusing on Thursday’s game at Portland because a showdown with league-leading Gonzaga looms on Saturday.
They left with a whole new cause for concern: Starting center Nate Austin’s ankle.
The 6-foot-11 Austin, a mainstay on 13-7 BYU’s thin front line, “tweaked” his ankle during the first part of practice, according to coach Dave Rose, and was sent off for X-rays.
“We will know a little bit more [later],” Rose said. “Hopefully, we can keep the swelling under control and go from there. We will just see what the doctors have to say.”
The Cougars just got their other big guy, freshman Eric Mika, back after he missed two games with a hip contusion. They can ill-afford to lose Austin heading into Thursday’s game against an 11-8 Portland team they showered with praise on Tuesday.
“The guys all [looked at] … the date when we are playing Gonzaga when they got the schedule, and so the real challenge for us is to make sure that stays in the back of their minds, and not on the front of their minds, because Portland will be all we can handle,” Rose said.
“Hopefully we will be at full force. That’s kind of an issue right now. You just worry about — if Nate does play — how good he will be. I want these guys to have the very best opportunity as possible [to win], so those kinds of things are very important.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Pilots (3-4 WCC) is that they have started the same five players — Kevin Bailey, Ryan Nicholas, Thomas van der Mars, Alec Wintering and Bryce Pressley — in all 19 of their games this season, Rose said. Even before the Pilots beat Gonzaga, he knew they were good.
“The first three quarters that they played at Michigan State might be as impressive as any 30 minutes of basketball that we have seen from any team in our league,” Rose said. “They were really good there.”
Off the Twitter
A lot of BYU players are on the social networking site Twitter, including star guard Tyler Haws, who used it the other day to send condolences to Colorado star Spencer Dinwiddie after his summer Team USA teammate blew out a knee.
Fellow junior Matt Carlino says he’s off Twitter, perhaps for good, although he can’t remember the exact day earlier this season that he bagged it.
“I just don’t want it around anymore,” Carlino said. “There is a lot of negative stuff on Twitter. My Papa, actually, he was like, ‘you need to get rid of that thing.’ So I was like, ‘done. I don’t care.’ I don’t really like it that much anyway. So he gave me the excuse to get rid of it. I was like, ‘cool.’ ”
ESPN college basketball expert Joe Lunardi has BYU among his “First Four Out” in his latest bracket prediction, along with Texas, Arizona State and Illinois. Gonzaga is a No. 7 seed in Lunardi’s Bracketology feature on ESPN.com, while Saint Mary’s is one of the “Next Four Out.”
The website bracketmatrix.com tracks 51 bracket projections and provides a consensus on a weekly basis. The Cougars show up in 14 of those 51 brackets, with an average seed of 11.36. BYU’s RPI is up to 38 after last week’s road wins; Gonzaga is at No. 20, while SMC is at No. 50.
Bell coming back?
Jim Meehan of the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported Tuesday that Gonzaga’s Gary Bell Jr. will have his broken hand examined Wednesday to see whether the star can play this week against San Diego on Thursday or BYU on Saturday.
BYU at Portland
O Thursday, 8 p.m.
TV • ROOT