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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 on the big stage tonight vs. Baylor

Good morning, everyone.

The BYU basketball team woke up in New York City for the second-straight day on Tuesday, but today the Cougars have a game to play.

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They got their first look at Madison Square Garden this morning in a shootaround, and of course will take on Baylor at 5 p.m. MDT (7 p.m. EDT) tonight.

Here's my advance of tonight's game -- which figures to be a high-scoring affair -- and here's a column from Kurt Kragthorpe on the significance on the Cougars' postseason run.

Got a feeling after listening to coach Dave Rose talk several times yesterday that the Cougars would rather be playing a team other than Baylor. The Bears walloped BYU 79-64 in Waco, Texas, back on Dec. 21 (the night after the Poinsettia Bowl) and are tall and athletic, but also have a great 3-point shooter in Brady Heslip.

"There are quite a few things [BYU needs to do differently tonight]," Rose said. "It starts with defensive rebounding. They did a great job on the offensive glass, getting second shots. Then transition defense. We lost Heslip a couple times in transition. Then Pierre Jackson, it is so hard for us to stay in front of him. We are going to have to get some help on him from our post guys.

Then we need to shoot the ball better. We had a lot of clean, open looks that we didn't hit. So we are playing a lot better right now than we were at that time. I think Scott's team is playing a lot better, too, so we look forward to it."

Jackson had 16 points and nine assists against BYU in December, and is having a spectacular NIT. He's averaging better than 11 assists and 19 points a game in the postseason.

"He is virtually impossible to guard," Rose said. You kinda got to get him into spots where he's not as comfortable. He is a guy who can get almost anywhere he wants to get on the floor, and then he makes good decisions that you really have to react to."

The Cougars are playing well, too. Rose said it started in the second half of the Washington game, and carried through to New York City.

"There are so many things that bring your team together," he said. "But I think the second half of the Washington game our guys were able to get out in transition, make shots. Our post guys were really active. Then we have great leadership. I think that the second half of the Washington game, and then the two halves vs. Mercer and the two halves against Southern Miss were as consistent as we've played in a long time."

I wrote about the Cougars' togetherness and team unity a few weeks ago, and how it has been a key ingredient to their recent success.

More on that from Rose:

"I think the real success of our program is our team, and the best part of our team is the team itself. These guys do a great job of putting themselves second, and putting the team first," he said. "This year, the personalities of these guys are that they just love to be around each other.

And they do a lot of things together off the floor.

Very seldom do we have any issues in practice with guys going after each other. It is an extremely competitive group.

That part of this team has allowed us to kinda regroup and get on this roll in the postseason, because these guys genuinely like each other, and they want to still be together, and play together."

Win or lose tonight, Rose said this NIT run has helped the program and will pay dividends next year.

"I think for the young guys that are playing to get a lot of postseason tournament experience is great. But the most important thing, I believe, for a program, is the expectation that new players who come in will understand that our expectation for our team and our players is to get to postseason and advance.

And there are a lot of things that we need to address, a lot of issues that are important for our coaching staff and our players to get better at. But I think they have that core understanding that, hey, it is important for us to get to postseason, and then when we get to postseason, to be successful.

The first four years, we went to the NIT the first year and then three years to the NCAA Tournament, we got eliminated in the first round, and those were some really tough years. And then the fact that the guys have responded so well to this challenge, hopefully the new guys coming in will understand the expectations."



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