Portland Ore. • With the addition of Pacific as its 10th member, the West Coast Conference has a totally different schedule this year than what BYU experienced in its first two years in the league.
That was evident again on Thursday night, as the Cougars began another two-game road trip at Portland. They play at Gonzaga on Saturday, which will mark their fourth straight game away from the Marriott Center.
Coach Dave Rose said Tuesday the new schedule has its pros and cons.
“I think we learned a lot from the first road trip,” Rose said. “The first road trip was way different because we were out of school. And as crazy as that sounds, we go on nine or 10 road trips a year, and eight or nine of them have a real rhythm to them.”
Rose said during the first road trip in late December, players had time on their hands because they weren’t doing homework and studying, and that was unusual.
“We didn’t handle it as well as we should have, and I think our guys really get confidence from the consistency of our schedule, not only at home, but on the road, too,” he said.
The Cougars lost at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine on that first trip. They bounced back on the second trip by beating San Francisco and Santa Clara.
“We will get a steady diet of this,” Rose said.
Mika makes third straight start
Freshman forward Eric Mika made his third straight start Thursday night after missing a pair of games earlier in the month with a hip contusion.
Mika entered the game having scored in double-figures in 17 straight games, but had just three points at halftime.
He said Tuesday it hasn’t been easy returning to action.
“I was out for a whole week of practice and two and a half games,” he said. “I felt good in practice before those games, but I think once you get into a game, it is a whole different thing than practice.
“It felt like how I felt the first few games of the season — everything seemed a little bit faster. That’s just how it is — it is different than practice.”
Toughened by the schedule
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi put out a Thursday edition of Bracketology in the morning, and BYU was back in his projections for the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars’ record of 13-7 entering the game against Portland wasn’t that flashy, but BYU is getting props from national experts for its extra-tough nonconference schedule.
Rose said Tuesday that was by design.
“I think there were a lot of games [before conference play] that kinda exposed some of the weaknesses that we had,” Rose said. “We were able to address those. I think that we have got a lot of improved individual play, which has really helped our team.
“And I also think that defensively, maybe the results of the [early schedule] has given us a little more focus on the defensive end of the floor. But I do think we are improving every game as a group on that end of the floor.”
Nate Austin sprained his ankle in practice on Tuesday, but started Thursday and did not seem affected by the injury. He played 19 of a possible 20 minutes in the first half.