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."
You can hear all of Rose's post-practice media session in "Cougar Cuts," above left.
In West Coast Conference play, San Francisco ranks third in both scoring offense and field goal percentage, and has scored 81 points or more in five consecutive games; last month, the Dons scored 104 points in a home win over Portland, only five days after their 56-point performance in Provo.
It was immediately after the BYU loss that USF head coach Rex Walters told reporters that "I set basketball back 100 years trying to walk it up against BYU and get our guys non-aggressive. We've got to be aggressive." That mindset has resulted in the Dons' climb up the league standings after an 0-4 start in league play; USF is alone in fifth place at 7-6, but has yet to beat any of the first through fourth place teams in the WCC, going a combined 0-5 against Saint Mary's, Gonzaga, BYU and Loyola Marymount.
Rose says San Francisco "can really score the ball from a lot of different spots," adding that "there are things we inherently do that we have to really change in order for what they do to not cause us problems. The way they guard defensively--we're going to have to make some real adjustments," said Rose, likening USF to Air Force, not in terms of style, but in terms of the preparation it will take to confront a disruptive team featuring "all five guys on the floor who can shoot."
After missing last Saturday's home win over Pepperdine with a sprained ankle, junior captain Brock Zylstra has practiced Monday and Tuesday of this week, and says he is excited to play Thursday at San Francisco, even thought his left ankle is clearly not 100%.
Last month versus the Dons, Zylstra scored 22 points on 8-for-8 shooting, which included making all six of his three-point field goal attempts. My post-practice interview with Zylstra will be featured in KSL Newsradio's "Cougar Pregame Live," just after 7:00pm MT on Thursday, leading up to the 8:00pm tipoff from War Memorial Gymnasium in San Francisco.
Rose was asked about the USF game serving as the front half of a Bay Area back-to-backer, with Santa Clara providing the opposition on Saturday, and he said "the most important thing for us is to be prepared to play on Thursday; execute our game plan, play well, hopefully have a good outcome, and then we'll worry about the next game after that."
Thursday's game will represent BYUs first game in San Francisco since a loss to the Dons in December of 2002; Saturday's game at Santa Clara will be the Cougars' first visit to the Leavey Events Center since December of 2003--so, BYU fans in the area have waited a while to see their team in town.
Rose says "when we go to a new area, we usually get some pretty good fans. I think BYU fans have turned out really well to watch this team, and hopefully that will continue in the next three road games."
Rose was asked if he could ever see BYU taking part in the annual BracketBusters--made-for-TV games designed to showcase mid-majors looking to boost their postseason portfolios. WCC foe Saint Mary's has consistently chosen to take part in the event, but Gonzaga has historically declined. "Not now," answered Rose when asked whether BYU would consider participating. "Our scheduling model is kind of set."