Rebounding once again BYU’s top priority as Cougars get ready to wrap up non-conference play against Oral Roberts

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nevada Wolf Pack guard Nisre Zouzoua (5) stops a layup by Brigham Young Cougars forward Dalton Nixon (33) in basketball action at the Marriott Center in Provo, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.

Provo BYU will close out its non-conference portion of the season the way it started — with a huge rebounding challenge.

The Cougars will host Oral Roberts, of the Summit League, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Marriott Center.

BYU coach Mark Pope said the main goal for the team will be to just get another win to close out 2019, but the Golden Eagles will present a challenge they’ve been working on since the start of the season.

“It’s really interesting because non-conference we started off with these huge, huge rebounding challenges, like massive rebounding challenges, and we’re finishing non-conference with a massive rebounding challenge,” Pope said. “If this team has any distinct identity over the last three years since [ORU coach Paul Mills] has been there, it’s been how well they rebound the ball offensively and defensively.”

ORU is currently ninth in the nation in offensive rebounds, averaging 14.17 per game, and tied for 51st in defensive rebounds (28.25). The Golden Eagles are also 10th in total rebounds per game (42.4).

In comparison, BYU is averaging 27.64 defensive rebounds and ranks fifth from last in offensive rebounds (6.21)

“That's kind of a nice book-ended tour through our challenge of scheming, really rebounding the ball and hopefully we can show that we've grown that way,” Pope said. “As a team, for us, it's always a mob mentality on the glass. It's going to be a real challenge.”

The Golden Eagles’ ability to get boards is also bolstered by their height. Two of the projected starters — forwards Emmanuel Nzekwesi and Kevin Obanor — are both 6-foot-8.

And they are just two of the team's top three rebounders.

Nzekwesi is averaging 8.7 rebounds, Obanor 7.4 and Elijah Lufile 8.0.

On the Cougars’ side, only one player is averaging more than 7 rebounds a game — Yoeli Childs (10.4).

BYU forward Dalton Nixon believes the Golden Eagles resemble the San Diego State squad the Cougars faced earlier this season.

In just the second game of the season, BYU was out-rebounded 43-27 by the Aztecs in the eventual 76-71 loss.

“We’ve seen these clips where they’re playing teams — Creighton, Oklahoma State, Wichita State — where they only have one or two guys underneath the rim and the other team has four or five trying to block them out, but they can still crash the glass, get boards, get put-backs,” Nixon said. “Similar to the challenge that we had is a bunch of undersized bigs. We’re really going to have to rebound as a team like we did against San Diego State.”

It is still unclear if Nixon will get a second-consecutive start on Saturday. The senior filled in against Weber State for Kolby Lee, who suffered a minor knee injury during practice the week prior.

Lee took part in his first live practice Friday and Pope said he'd love to have the sophomore available for at least a few minutes on Saturday, but it will be a game-time decision.

Whether he is needed at the start of the game or later, Nixon said he's preparing the same way as usual.

“It doesn’t change the way I approach the game — just go as hard as I can,” Nixon said. “A big task for us tomorrow is going to rebound the ball. We understand that all five guys — it doesn’t matter who’s out there — is going to have a big challenge to rebound the basketball. Whether I start or whether I come off the bench, that’s the mindset tomorrow.”


At the Marriott Center, Provo

Tipoff » Saturday, 7 p.m. MT

TV » BYUtv

Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143

Records » BYU 10-4; ORU 7-5

All-time series » BYU leads 6-0

Last meeting » BYU 85, ORU 65 (Nov. 15, 2018)

About BYU » The Cougars are the winners of the last four-straight, after defeating their final in-state opponent, Weber State, 91-61. … It was BYU’s third 30-point win of their current win streak. … Yoeli Childs had his third game of the season with 20-plus points and is averaging a double-double (20.8 points; 10.4 rebounds) to lead the Cougars.

About ORU » The Golden Eagles are also coming into Saturday’s match-up on a four-game winning streak. … Redshirt senior leads ORU win scoring and rebounds with 16.1 ppg and 8.7 rpg, while Max Abmas (13.9), Deondre Burns (13.8) and Kevin Obanor (11.3) also average double-digit points per game. … ORU will close out its non-conference portion at BYU before starting The Summit League play.