BYU's two-game Bay Area road swing resulted in considerable benefit: two wins that extended the Cougars win streak to five games and their road win streak to seven games, keeping BYU in the mix for a West Coast Conference regular season championship.
The victories at San Francisco and Santa Clara also came with a potentially significant cost: knee injuries suffered by leading scorer Noah Hartsock and third-leading scorer Matt Carlino.
The BYU Cougar hoopsters open a key three-game conference road swing with back-to-back Bay Area contests this week, starting Thursday at San Francisco.
Following his team's Tuesday afternoon practice at the Marriott Center, head coach Dave Rose previewed his team's upcoming duel with the Dons, saying that he expects to see a "completely different team" from the one BYU dismantled 81-56 last month in Provo, "as far as their confidence level, their execution offensively; they're really comfortable with how they are playing."
"They remind me a lot of how they were playing last year, at the end of the season," said Rose. "They've won seven of their last nine games...so we'll look forward to quite a test here."
BYU released its long-awaited 2012 football schedule on Monday, with Athletic Director Tom Holmoe calling it "a good schedule...better than it was last year"--the first season of the school's football independence.
Holmoe said there was a relative delay in the release of the schedule (the 2011 schedule was released on Dec. 8, 2010) as BYU explored late changes. "We had the possibility of getting a game that would have changed things, and we would have had to move a couple of things around," said Holmoe in a teleconference with reporters after the schedule announcement.
"We actually did move some dates around with the WAC teams; they were very helpful. It would have been to our benefit to move (the Notre Dame) game into another slot, and Notre Dame was considering it, but it just didn't end up in our best interest, so we agreed upon the original date."
Three weeks from tonight, the West Coast Conference will crown its tournament champion. Among the most-asked questions in these parts is "how many WCC teams will join the champ in the NCAA Tournament?"
Both league leader St. Mary's and second-place Gonzaga are ranked in the Top 25, and have been considered all but locks for Big Dance cards for some time now. So barring a lower seed rising up and stealing the conference tourney crown, the real question is: "What does BYU have to do to dance?"
The BYU Cougars' recent injury woes have somewhat worsened, as team captain Brock Zylstra missed Thursday's practice with a sprained left ankle. Head coach Dave Rose called Zylstra "questionable" for Saturday's home game with Pepperdine, adding that Zylstra is also not expected to practice on Friday.
Zylstra sprained the ankle on Jan. 27, then played 28 scoreless minutes in the home loss to St. Mary's the following day. Moving to the bench, Zylstra played 25 solid minutes in a Marriott Center win over Gonzaga, then re-injured the ankle early in last Saturday's game at Portland. He stayed in the game, however, played 28 minutes and scored 12 points, adding five rebounds. After the road win over the Pilots, Rose commended Zylstra, saying "what a tough guy...he's as good a competitor as we've ever had."
It's a very, very hard thing to do. Dave Rose and the BYU Cougars just make it look easy.
Saturday in Portland, BYU recorded its 20th win of the season, for a seventh straight season--every season of the Rose era. Never before had BYU had won 20 or more for seven straight years, just as no coach had ever led BYU to seven 20-win campaigns--let alone seven in a row.
Rose's five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2007 through 2011 were already a school record, and 2012 finds the coach and his Cougars driving hard for a sixth consecutive dance card. At 20-6 on the season, 8-3 in the WCC, and with almost as many road/neutral wins (9) as home victories (11), BYU is pacing to make Selection Sunday another good day for the Cougar hoopsters.
The "Bounce-back Kids" did it again last night.
Welcoming the 24th ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs to Provo for the first time ever, the BYU Cougars rebounded from a weekend home loss to #16/18 St. Mary's with a resurgent 83-73 win over the Zags Thursday at the Marriott Center--a victory that means it has still been more than three years (late January 2009) since BYU last lost consecutive regular season games.
You can hear audio highlights of the win in "Cougar Cuts," left.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall introduced his latest recruiting class to boosters, the media and Cougar Nation on Wednesday, declaring that the Class of 2012 is the class "most qualified...to do it all," speaking of his vision to lead "the most complete football program in the world"--a program emphasizing Top 25-caliber football, academics, spirituality and service.
In a LaVell Edwards Stadium presentation made to local members of the Cougar Club and members of the press, Mendenhall prefaced his introduction of recruits by listing a series of program accomplishments over the last seven seasons. Among them:
BYU is one of nine programs to be ranked in the final Coaches Top 25 Poll in five of the last six seasons.
Saying that "with every loss comes renewed urgency," BYU Basketball head coach Dave Rose on Tuesday afternoon previewed his team's Thursday night meeting with #24 Gonzaga--a second consecutive conference home game against a ranked team, with the Cougars having lost to #16/18 St. Mary's last Saturday.
You can hear Rose post-practice media session by clicking in "Cougar Cuts," left.
Because it's the start of a new week, and because I've been doing this at the start of the last few weeks, here are BYU Basketball's updated numbers of note:
Heading into their weekend meeting with St. Mary's, the BYU Cougars controlled a great deal of their own destiny, relative to the WCC regular season title chase.
Facing eight league games to finish the campaign, the Cougars knew that winning out would secure no worse than a two seed in the conference tournament, and winning out with St. Mary's losing one additional game (at Gonzaga, ostensibly) would secure a regular season crown and the number one seed in Las Vegas. It was going to be a hard road for the Cougars, but it was rolled out in front of them.
Saturday's 80-66 Marriott Center setback has all but dashed BYU's regular season title hopes, with the Cougars (18-6, 6-3 WCC) now dropping three games back of the front-running Gaels (21-2, 10-0 WCC) in the conference table. With only six games remaining on their fixture list, the Gaels are essentially in a familiar two-team tussle with Gonzaga for the conference championship, with all eyes on their Feb. 9 get-together in Spokane. BYU, meantime, still has a meaningful goal in sight: earn the conference tournament two seed and secure a bye to the tourney semifinals at the Orleans Arena. The easiest way to accomplish that goal: win out.
BYU head coach Dave Rose on Friday said his team should feel more prepared to face WCC leader St. Mary's in Saturday's Marriott Center rematch, saying "I think we're a lot a better" than the Cougars were in their earlier meeting--a game the Gaels won 98-82 four weeks ago in Moraga.
"They really sped us up (in the first game)," said Rose before his team's practice Friday afternoon. "We got really impatient offensively, we had a lot of one-pass shots."
The BYU Basketball team makes a rare late January foray into non-conference play Wednesday in Blacksburg, Va.,visiting Virginia Tech and seeking to boost a postseason portfolio that took a hit with a home loss last week.
Although BYU has wins over league leaders Oregon (Pac-12; 15-5 overall), Nevada (WAC; 16-3 overall) and Weber State (Big Sky; 15-3 overall), the Cougars lack what most would call a nationally significant win. Starting with the game at Virginia Tech, and continuing with home games versus St. Mary's and Gonzaga, the Cougars are presented with three consecutive chances to record resume-building victories that will also put a little more air into BYU's postseason bubble.
Piggy-backing off of yesterday's "Cougar Tracks" and inspired by Dick Harmon's recent column in the Deseret News, I have a few more thoughts about the 2011-12 BYU Basketball team, compared to the 2010-11 squad that set the school record for most wins in its 32-5 "Sweet Sixteen" campaign.
Whereas last year's BYU team featured the nation's best player, this season's version may prove to be Dave Rose's most balanced collection of talent, and only injuries to Chris Collinsworth and Stephen Rogers have prevented the 2011-12 Cougars from maximizing their projected depth dividends.
The BYU Basketball team is 20 games into its 2011-12 campaign, and at 16-4 on the season, the Cougars are pacing for another 20-plus win season, which would set a new school record at seven consecutive seasons with 20 or more victories. Even without last season's national Player of the Year, BYU has essentially picked up where "Jimmermania" left off.
While lacking a nationally-recognized marquee win this season, BYU does have under-valued victories over league leaders Weber State and Nevada, while a win over Oregon may yet increase in value. By statistical measures, BYU is also among the country's best teams, and the Cougars' RPI, Sagarin and Pomeroy rankings remain in range of projected NCAA Tournament teams; indeed, most "bracketologists" of record have the Cougars in the field of 68.
On Thursday of a week that had the members of the coaching staff out recruiting and the players enjoying an earlier day off, BYU head coach Dave Rose previewed his team's Saturday showdown with Santa Clara, noting that "it seems like a long time since we played."
With seven days between games, Rose gave his players an off day Tuesday, while coaches scattered to get done some in-season recruiting. The team practiced Monday, Wednesday and again Thursday, prepping for a Broncos squad that according to Rose features a "special group of guards," led by the West Coast Conference's leading scorer in junior Kevin Foster, who already holds the school record for three-pointers made, with an even 300 (on 824 attempts; by comparison, Jimmer Fredette holds BYU's career marks with 296 3pfg on 752 3pfga).
BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall held an end-of-the-season meeting with members of the local media on Wednesday, and revealed that he turned down an opportunity to leave BYU for another head coaching job after the 2011 campaign.
It was earlier reported by Deseret News columnist Dick Harmon that Mendenhall pulled his name out of consideration for the opening at UCLA; I've since learned that Mendenhall met with representatives from the Pac-12 school before deciding to stay at BYU. "I'm not sure," Mendenhall said Wednesday, when asked if he thought BYU would be his last coaching job.
During a free-flowing, 45-minute question-and-answer session, Mendenhall also:
For the fifth time in the last six seasons, the BYU Football team has finished the season ranked in the Top 25, and also ended the year highly ranked in multiple statistical categories.
BYU ended the 2011 campaign ranked 25th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and 26th in the AP Poll, in balloting released Tuesday morning, with the BCS Championship game providing the season's official conclusion.
Eight weeks. Eight weeks from tonight, the West Coast Conference will stage its basketball tournament championship game in Las Vegas, and by the end of that night, the Cougars will either know if they're in, or how close they are to being in the NCAA Tournament.
The bracket tea is still steeping, so the leaves are not yet ready to read, but we are getting an idea of where BYU stands in the Selection Sunday mix, and current signs point to the Cougars as a strong at-large candidate--barring a tourney title on March 5th.
A welcome sight for BYU Basketball coaches, players and fans was forward Stephen Rogers on the practice floor Tuesday in Provo--two days ahead of the Cougars' next West Coast Conference game, a road test at Loyola Marymount on Thursday night.
Rogers underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus on December 15th, and was given a recovery window of two to four weeks. A little less than three weeks after the injury, Rogers is back on the floor and pacing to play on Thursday; officially, Rogers is a game-time decision. He did dress but sat out each of the last two games--at St. Mary's, and home to San Diego.
Noting that Rogers practice "a little bit" on Monday and "quite a bit more today," Rose said the junior forward "felt good coming into practice today, which was the best sign, because the soreness is what you worry about."
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