PROVO — Coming off a confidence-boosting weekend win at Saint Mary's, the BYU basketball team returns to the Marriott Center to face a nationally ranked Gonzaga squad that owns a current five-game win streak against the Cougars.
Thursday night's game features the first- and second-place teams in the West Coast Conference. The Zags have clinched no worse than a tie for the regular-season championship. At 13-1 in league play, Gonzaga (No. 22 Coaches/No. 25 AP) has a 3 1/2-game lead on 10-5 BYU, which remains in mathematical contention for a conference title, but barely. The Cougars would need to win their three remaining regular season games, while Gonzaga would need to lose its final four games — all of which are on the road.
"I like the pressure better when you're trying to defend (a championship)," said BYU head coach Dave Rose after his team's Wednesday practice in Provo. "But chasing it is still a good pressure. Hopefully our guys are ready."
PROVO — With only five games remaining in the regular season, the BYU basketball team is positioned for a return to the NCAA Tournament after last year's absence snapped a six-year streak in the Big Dance.
A majority of the most-cited Selection Sunday prognosticators have the Cougars as one of the last teams in the field of 68, meaning BYU's margin for error is minimal as Dave Rose's team heads out on the road for games this week at Pacific and Saint Mary's.
"You can feel it from the guys," said Rose on Tuesday, referring to the building pressure at this time of the season. "They realize that they're in a position where the games are really important and mean a lot.
PROVO — BYU junior forward Nate Austin has become one of the Cougars' most consistent players this season. While only averaging 4.1 points per game, Austin's rebounding has provided a huge lift to his team, and it isn't going unnoticed.
"The thing about Nate is that he's kind of always been in a role spot," BYU head coach Dave Rose said. "He's taken that to where he's become a star in that role position because what he does is really good for this team. We've been able to really count on him."
Through 26 games, Austin leads BYU in rebounding at 8.4 boards per contest. In Saturday night's win over San Francisco, Austin grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds. In fact, he has more than 10 rebounds in seven games this year.
PROVO — A BYU basketball season that has included as many energy-sapping heartbreaks as challenging schedule quirks now heads down the homestretch, with the Cougars this week hitting the road for back-to-back games.
With BYU firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble, every contest has the feel of an elimination game, with the Cougars' at-large hopes on the line every time they take the floor. At 17-9 on the season and possessing an RPI in the mid-40s, BYU is on the good side of the bubble with many bracketologists (ESPN's Joe Lunardi among them), projected as one of the last at-large teams in the field of 68 — but there is little if any wiggle room for Dave Rose's team.
Games this week at Pacific (Thursday) and St. Mary's (Saturday) represent unique challenges for the Cougars. BYU has never played a game at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton, Calif., and will be facing the Tigers for only the second time as a West Coast Conference foe. In their meeting late last month in Provo, Pacific shot the ball particularly well (53 percent FG, 41 percent 3PFG, 81 percent FT) and had the Cougars on their heels for stretches of an eventual 88-78 BYU victory.
PROVO — Two teams headed in opposite directions meet Thursday night in Provo, and the BYU Cougars seek to extend their winning streak to three games, while visiting Santa Clara tries to stop a six-game skid.
BYU, which has won all four games against Santa Clara since joining the West Coast Conference and has won the last nine meetings with the Broncos overall, has won the first two games of a current four-game homestand, improving coach Dave Rose's team to 7-4 in conference play and a tie for second place in the WCC. Kerry Keating's Santa Clara club has dropped into a tie for last place at 3-8 in league play.
Rose says he is very surprised that the Broncos are struggling the way they are presently, noting that "it was a team that went to Portland and beat Portland and won at St. Mary's, so obviously it's a team capable of going out on the road and putting a game together."
PROVO — The BYU Cougars entered the 2014 signing period with a plan to upgrade certain positions--wide receiver and outside linebacker, in particular. As signing day progressed, it became clear that the Cougars had addressed those needs.
When asked what he thinks he knows about this year's recruiting class, BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said "(it) might be the strongest in terms of ability and impact."
With BYU all-time leading receiver Cody Hoffman graduating and moving on to the NFL, BYU coaches made the wideout spot a top priority on signing day.
PROVO — PROVO--- After a rough two-game losing streak on the road, the BYU men's basketball team have bounced back and are tied for the second-place spot in the West Coast Conference by defeating both Pacific and St. Mary's at the Marriott Center last week.
With these two, huge home victories, the Cougars look to keep their post-season hopes alive and continue their home-court dominance as they prepare to host the Broncos of Santa Clara on Thursday and the Dons of San Francisco on Saturday.
" Our guys really understood the importance of both of those games," head coach Dave Rose told Greg Wrubell Tuesday night at Malawi's Pizza in Provo. "Hopefully we can repeat that intensity of Wednesday practice and Thursday preparation…I think our guys are really ready this week."
PROVO — BYU junior guard Tyler Haws was very busy last week. Not only did he lead the Cougars to back-to-back home victories over Pacific and St. Mary's, he managed to average averaged 35.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals in the process.
What may be even more impressive is the fact that Haws shot 59.5 percent from the field, 66.7 percent from three and 91.3 percent from the free throw line. Those numbers were good enough to earn Haws his second West Coast Conference Player of the Week award of the season.
Despite being the focus of every opponent BYU plays, Haws seems to find a way to rise to the occasion. Through 24 games, Haws is averaging 24.6 points per game (third best in the nation), while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 46.5 percent from three.
The BYU Cougars are the highest-scoring team in West Coast Conference play, with the league's second best field-goal percentage and the third-best scoring margin. Defense, however, was the topic du jour at the Cougars' post-practice media availability on Wednesday--the day before BYU opens a four-game home set, with the Pacific Tigers paying their first visit to Provo since 1996.
BYU is last in the league in scoring defense, and while middle-of-the-pack in FG% defense, has been victimized by the three-point shot almost more than any other team. BYU is 9th in the conference in 3PFG% allowed, having given up a league-high 74 triples through nine conference games.
In BYU's four league losses, the Cougars have been outscored 135 to 45 from the three-point line alone. On the season overall, BYU's opponents have taken 200 more three-point attempts than the Cougars, outscoring BYU by more than eight points per game from the arc.
PROVO — The Cougars returned home this week after a disappointing end to a four-game road trip. A triple overtime loss at Portland and a double-digit defeat at the hands of Gonzaga have left BYU in the middle of the pack chasing the WCC regular season championship.
Despite the tough road ahead, Dave Rose was confident at his weekly coach's show Tuesday night at the new Google Fiber headquarters in downtown Provo.
"I think that this team has great potential and a great future," Rose said, "but we have to get started on Thursday with a big win."
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