Thanks to those stumbles in late December and Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount, and the triple-overtime loss at Portland, there’s no margin of error for the BYU basketball team these days if it wants to make the NCAA Tournament.
A loss tonight at Pacific, where the Cougars are 3 1/2-point favorites, would be especially damning.
"I think you can feel it from the guys. I think they realize that they are in a position where the games are really important. They really mean a lot," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "I think our sport is unique to the fact that there is always another chance with the [conference] tournament at the end. But I do that believe our guys know the standings, and just know the weight of every game now. The best part is that when you do win, it makes the next game even more important, and that’s a great way to get through February and March."
Although the Cougars know the standings, Rose said neither he, his coaching staff nor the players are constantly checking bracket projections to see where they stand.
"Well I think what guys understand is that that it is so temporary. There’s so much to do. If the tournament was on Saturday, that would be nice. But it is not, OK? I think every player, every coach, kinda deals with it their own way. But from my point of view — and they hear my point of view quite a bit — is that it is just so temporary. Things can change so quickly, no matter which side of the coin you are on.
Right now, you got yourself in second place in a good league, you’ve won some good games and you have a lot of good games in front of you, and you try to finish the best you can. So hopefully we have instilled a few things in our guys, and that’s the only thing that is really important, is the next game that we play."
The Cougars weren’t completely healthy the last time they ventured out on the road, because Eric Mika was still nursing that hip injury suffered against San Diego. There will be no such excuses this time; the Cougars are feeling good about themselves, physically and mentally.
"I hope we are healthier," Rose said. "Our guys seem to be moving around pretty good. We had a good practice [Monday], a real good practice [Tuesday]. I think Eric feels way better. I believe our team has improved in a lot of different ways.
Coming home, we got some really big offensive nights from Tyler [Haws] Hopefully we understand that those are possibilities that Ty can have those kinds of nights, but that we don’t depend on them.
Hopefully all of us can be prepared and we can have some balance in our offensive game.
I think defensively we’ve improved in our concentration, as far as our execution is concerned. But the key to this road trip is we got to be able to stay out of foul trouble and defend the 3-point line.
I mean, those are things that have hurt us in some of our past road games in league. It is so important this time of year to be physical, and to compete in a real physical nature. But we need to find a way to be more physical, and foul less, if that is possible.
Because we need to keep our big guys on the floor."
When reporters talked to Rose on Tuesday, the incident regarding Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart was still topical, so I asked Rose for some of his thoughts on the matter. Smart was suspended three games by the Big 12 after he shoved a fan under the basket at the end of the Texas Tech-OSU game on Saturday night.
"I think it is probably, wow, you didn’t see that coming," Rose said. "I mean, I do know that it is such a rare occurrence, I just don’t believe that every coach spends time talking to their team about it. I will betcha every coach is talking to their team about it in the last couple of days. But it was sad. It was sad to see, because it kinda took the whole story from a really competitive game.
Then you have to deal with it. The coaches have to deal with it, the players have to deal with it. The individual has to deal with it. It is something that I think everybody wishes didn’t happen."
The Cougars played Pacific two weeks ago, beating the Tigers 88-78 back on Feb. 1. But playing on the road is an entirely different animal in college basketball, and Rose said the Cougars will have to play well to get the season sweep.
‘Well, this is a really good team. And the matchup for us is really difficult because of their ability to drive the ball," Rose said. "They drive it right at us. We told our guys today that we were the benefit of just a superb offensive game by Ty [Haws]. I think he scored the first 20 points of the game and didn’t miss very many shots. (first 21 of 25)
So we had that offensive cushion most of the game, and they closed it to three or four points in the second half. It really felt like we were on our heels a lot in that second half, with how they penetrate that ball. And then they’ve got good shooters on the perimeter and they execute really well in the half court.
As a coaching staff, we really feel like we have our hands full and our guys are going to have to be good. We are going to have to play a really good game to go in there and win. We can’t go in there and expect to play a half, or a half of a half, and expect to win. We are going to have to play a full game."
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