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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's Mika learns his mission destination -- Italy

Some off-the-court news involving current and future BYU basketball players came out last night, in case you missed it or don’t follow the guys on Twitter. The players received their mission calls.

Freshman forward Eric Mika is going to Rome, Italy, and will leave on May 14.

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Walk-on Graham Pingree, a 6-8 freshman from Greenwood Village, Colo., will also serve in Rome, Italy.

Lone Peak High senior TJ Haws, who signed with BYU last November, has been called to serve in Lyon, France. Haws is the younger brother of Tyler Haws, who was actually born across the border from France, in Belgium.

So, the Cougars have Europe almost covered. Nick Emery, who graduated from Lone Peak last year and signed with the Cougars a year ago November, is serving in Frankfurt, Germany.

Here’s my preview of tonight’s game against Gonzaga, published in today’s Tribune. Tipoff is at 9 p.m. MST and the game will be televised by ESPN2.

BYU coach Dave Rose closed practice on Wednesday, but did hold his weekly press conference afterwards and said the Cougars will have to play one of their best games of the season to topple the Bulldogs.

Despite Gonzaga’s national ranking (No. 22 in coaches poll, No. 25 in AP Top 25 media poll) and superior record, the Cougars are a 2-point favorite. Goes to show you what the oddsmaker think of home-court advantage — which is to say, a lot. The Zags were 10-point favorites in Spokane a few weeks ago when they won 84-69 with a huge second half.

"Well, we have watched a lot of it," Rose said of that game. "It is an important part of our preparation, I think. I thought we played a competitive first half, and then in the second half they beat us pretty good. Hopefully we will be able to respond to that. But we watched quite a bit of it."

After BYU’s 60-57 win over Saint Mary’s last Saturday, ESPN cameras caught Mika giving the choke sign to Saint Mary’s students who had been on his case the entire game.

Rose was asked Wednesday by Jared Lloyd of the Provo Daily Herald about the gesture.

"Yeah, we’ve had quite a long conversation. It is disappointing, and I think he understands that his reaction to some harassing fans was not appropriate," Rose said.

The coach was also asked why it is important for players to ignore the crowd and not respond to cat-calls, insults and the like.

"In this situation, the game was over. It is a little bit different, but it is still the same issue. You want to represent your school and your team the best you can," Rose said. "I think that conversations are important. I think probably the best way to learn from these situations is experience — the more times you are in those type of environments, and the more times you feel it and hear it and experience it, the more it becomes common and you can not react to it. Hopefully that’s what happens here with Eric."

Rose said battling the opponent is a big enough challenge without letting opposing fans get in players’ heads.

"Well, that’s one of the real challenges, is to really compete and compete within the game. It is a real emotional fight, and there is urgency involved. You want your guys to feel the importance of possessions, and competing, and not getting beat, contesting, and then still play within the framework of the game," he said. "So that’s a unique challenge in itself, just with the 10 guys on the floor, and the benches, and then you throw the fans in, that is another challenge, and guys just need to be in a situation where they can handle it, and deal with it, and know it is going to come, and it is going to be repeated, and you are just going to have to deal with it."

Tyler Haws was also asked about Mika’s gesture and how he handles taunts from opposing crowds.

"Yeah, I don’t know [what to say about Mika’s deal]," Haws said. "I think guys show their emotions differently sometimes. You constantly have people yelling stuff at you, and it can get pretty personal sometimes. But you just have to focus on the game and focus on what you have to do to win, and when you win, everything is better."

Haws said he’s even lost his cool at times.

"It can be really tough sometimes. I get stupid fouls, " he said. "Last game I kinda lost it and put my head down and shoved a dude. I got to be smart, and just focus on the little things I have to do to get a catch or get a good look. There are a lot of things I can focus on to keep my emotions intact."

Rose talked after the SMC win about how important the start of the second half was, and why he started Anson Winder and Luke Worthington in that half for defensive reasons, and because he thought the officials might be looking to call a few quick fouls to set the tone for that half.

I asked him if that same reasoning might cause him to go with a different starting lineup tonight.

"It is a possibility," he said. "We have worked with quite a few different lineups. The key for us is I want our guys playing as loose and as aggressive and as on attack as possible. Sometimes when we get into early foul trouble — and the guys end up not fouling out — they make it to the end of the game, the attitude that they play with, the attack that you see in them, is not as aggressive as you would like it to be. I would like our guys to get into the middle of the first half, or late into the first half, before they get their second or third foul. Hopefully we can manage that somehow."

Against SMC, Matt Carlino was on the floor in crunch time, instead of starter Sky Halford. I asked Rose whether Carlino’s role will change and if he might get his starting job back.

"Matt’s role, I think he has responded really well," Rose said. "He has really played well in that role, and hopefully he can continue to do that."

Of course, the first few questions Kyle Collinsworth fielded Wednesday were about his right knee.

"I get to keep the leg," Collinsworth quipped as he sat down to take questions.

He revealed that when it happened, he thought his season was over.

"I heard a pop, so I thought I tore it, that something extremely bad happened. I just hit the floor so hard that it caused a deep bone bruise. I went back and I heard it snap. I thought maybe that’s it for the season," he said.



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