Provo • When BYU basketball coach Dave Rose decided to pull senior forward Luke Worthington out of the starting lineup a few games ago, the least surprised player on the team was Worthington himself.
The captain and Rose had been having weekly discussions about the possibility, while Rose waited for freshman Gavin Baxter to show he was ready. So when Baxter proved he could handle the extra pressure that comes with being a starter, Rose made the switch.
Worthington “was all 100 percent engaged and supportive and ready to execute that and make it happen,” Rose said Tuesday after practice as the Cougars prepared for what Rose called “a really important road trip for us.”
The Cougars (16-10, 8-3) will take their second-place standing in the West Coast Conference and three-game winning streak to San Diego on Thursday and Loyola Marymount on Saturday. They lost at both venues last year, and the Toreros (16-9, 5-5) and Lions (17-8, 5-6) have improved, especially the Lions.
Rose was non-committal Tuesday regarding who will start at the five position Thursday at Jenny Craig Pavilion, saying he’s got “probably seven or eight guys that we can start at any time,” but it almost certainly will be Baxter, who has started in all three games of the current winning streak.
“I like to keep a consistent starting lineup, but we have made changes to it this year based on mostly personnel matchups,” Rose said.
As far as how Worthington handled the benching last week against LMU at the Marriott Center, after having started every WCC game to that point this season, Rose said the 6-foot-9 journeyman who will be a graduate assistant next season handled it as well as could be expected.
The coach said his two seniors — Worthington and McKay Cannon, who got the start at point guard in the WCC opener at Pacific and hasn’t given it up — have been as fun to coach as any two seniors he’s had in his 14 seasons at BYU.
“It is just a special time to coach players their senior year. It just is,” Rose said. “Because there are no decisions to be made [regarding their futures]. The decisions have all been made for you. I have had some unbelievable guys give themselves to our program their senior year, but these two have been as good as any.”
Worthington showed the depth of his character last Saturday against Pacific when he made three or four outstanding plays — a steal, a rebound and two baskets — in the final five minutes of the 69-59 win.
“I like to come in and do what I can to help,” Worthington said. “I got in there and was fortunate enough to make a couple plays that helped us get that distance from them at the end of the game.
“That’s what I try to be in there for, to be that presence, get the loose balls, tie up the loose ends. No matter what point of the game I am coming in, or where I am on the floor, I just try to help everyone to win a game. So it was nice,” he said.
Having replaced Jahshire Hardnett in the starting lineup back on Jan. 3, Cannon has “played as well any guard in the conference,” Rose said.
In conference games, Cannon is shooting 53 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range. He’s had 21 assists and just four turnovers.
“And defensively, he’s just been a gem,” Rose said.
Hardnett reinjured his left hand last week at Portland and missed the Pacific game Saturday. Rose said the junior had an MRI on Monday and nothing is broken, but he is in a lot of pain and probably won’t play Thursday at San Diego. He will make the trip, however, and could play on Saturday at Gertsen Pavilion in Los Angeles.
BYU at San Diego, 8 p.m. MST
TV: AT&T SportsNet