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Jay Drew
Jay covers BYU athletics for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter @drewjay.

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BYU basketball hopes February brings the usual improvement

Throughout his seven-year tenure as BYU's head basketball coach, Dave Rose has been proud of the fact that the Cougars seemingly play better in February than they did in January.

As the new month approaches, the coach hopes that this team continues that trend, he said after a spirited practice on Tuesday at the Marriott Center.

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"The most important thing is to handle February like we always handle February, and that's trying to get better," Rose said when he was asked what the Cougars need to do to right the ship after two straight home losses.

"Each practice we try to get better. With every loss comes a renewed urgency. Right now we are not shooting the ball as well as we have at other times during the year. It is not just one guy -- we got a couple of guys that are struggling. What we need to do is get back on top of that, get confident, start hitting shots.

I am really proud of the fact that we found a way to win a couple games when we were kind of mired in a tough offensive slump. We just keep pushing forward and hopefully we can get better each day."

The practice went on without Stephen Rogers, who rode the stationary bike in the tunnel and did some light jogging. Rose said Rogers practiced on Monday, but his knee was sore again on Tuesday and so he was held out.

"It is about the same," Rose said of the team's injury situation. "We get a day [where they practice] and then we get a setback. Chris [Collinsworth] is getting better, but he is not ready to practice. Stephen [Rogers] practiced really hard Monday, and today it is really stiff and sore, so he didn't practice."

One of the Cougars' practice team players, Austin Nelson, took an elbow in the mouth that knocked out a tooth and also required stitches. Nick Martineau suffered a gash on his arm/elbow and was also probably headed to the doctor to get stitches.

"Our practices have been good, and they have really been good most of the year," Rose said. "That's not the problem. We are playing really hard and I think our guys are really positive. I think they are obviously a little disappointed in the outcome of Saturday's game, and I know that they are working hard. So that's a good sign."

A few more comments from Rose as the Cougars prepared to take on No. 24 Gonzaga at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Marriott Center. The game will be televised by ESPN2:

On whether this game is more important than most because Gonzaga is last big-name team coming into MC this year:

"I was thinking this weekend, in my 15 years, I don't remember playing back-to-back conference games against a top-25 team. And I think it says a lot about the league we are in, and how strong the league is.

It may go back to the WAC with New Mexico and Utah. I don't know when it is. I will put that on you guys. Maybe someone can figure it out.

The challenge we have is one that hopefully we can respond to, as far as the game on Thursday."

(The last time BYU played back-to-back ranked teams at home was in the 2006-07 season. The Cougars defeated No. 13 Air Force 61-52 and then No. 25 UNLV 90-63).

On playing against experienced point guards:

"Knowing the landscape of the league, and understanding the challenge from top to bottom, is an advantage for those returning players, yeah."

On whether he talks to coaches like Mark Few less now that they are in same league:

"No, I don't seem to talk to any WCC guys yet, especially during the season. I had a couple of conversations with coach Few over the years during the season, especially when he has reached out to us. I think the Mountain West Conference, those guys are doing just fine. I don't spend much time talking to them."

On whether this is a do-or-die game as far as NCAA Tourney goes:

"I don't know if it is do-or-die, but they are important. Every game is important. It is important to improve as a team. History will tell you that our teams get better through February and into March. Right now, this team has that opportunity. We will see if we can take advantage of it."

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