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PROVO -- Six games into the post-"Jimmer" era and the BYU Cougars are 4-2 and right where most people expected. The two losses have come against Utah State in Logan - no shame there - and against No. 11 ranked Wisconsin, now ranked No. 7, at the Chicago Invitational Challenge Final on Saturday. In both losses the Cougars were in the game and winning, but allowed big runs by their opponents which changed the momentum and led to the defeats.
The game Saturday against Wisconsin was one that showed some weaknesses in BYU's current ability to defend the 3- pointer. Just eight minutes into the game BYU had allowed the Badgers to hit five of their first six 3- pointers. BYU moved to a zone defense to combat the barrage and for a time was able to slow the Badger express from 3-point land. A 12-2 first half-run kept the Cougars in the game, trailing only by two at the half, 34-32.
The second half was where Wisconsin took over, led by Sophomore Ben Brust. Brust nailed five 3-pointers in the half to open the game up. The Badgers used an 11-0 run after BYU had tied the game at 42 apiece to open up a 53- 42 lead and cruise to the 73-56 win.
Bo Ryan's teams at Wisconsin are notorious for having "specialists" or well defined "role" guys and Brust is the epitome of that. As ESPN's Eamonn Brennan says in his analysis of the game, "Brust is the definition of a specialist; the guard attempted just one two-point shot last night (Saturday). But he's a vital piece in Ryan's team."
The Badgers are led by preseason All-American Jordan Taylor, but their supporting cast -- as always seems to be the case with Ryan's program -- is just as important to their success. It showed Saturday against BYU. Brust was the difference in the game and ended with a game high 21 points. Wisconsin shot 13-of-24 for the game, a clip of 54.2 percent.
BYU Head Coach Dave Rose spoke of the need for consistency as a critical element to beat a team like the Badgers. After the game Rose said, "We need to be a lot more consistent with our play through the game to beat a team like that." And he added the ability to defend good shooting as another factor in the loss.
"They are an extremely patient team and have five shooters on the floor at all times. This season for us, we haven't faced that yet."
BYU will play two Big Sky teams and a Pac-12 team in their next three games, including a trip to Prescott Valley, Ariz. where they will play the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona on Wednesday, back to Salt Lake City to play Oregon on Saturday the 3, before the football team's game against Hawaii, and then an in-state battle in Provo on December 7 against Weber State.
Look to find out more about Wisconsin and how the Badgers fit into the national picture with their next couple of games. They travel to Chapel Hill this Wednesday to play former No. 1 North Carolina, now ranked No. 5 after being upset by UNLV in the final of the Las Vegas Invitational on Saturday (more on that game later) and then the Badgers will play No. 16 Marquette this coming Saturday.
Around the West Coast Conference
Early returns from around the WCC have been mixed so far in 2011.
- Gonzaga appears to be the top dog still with its No. 19 ranking in the latest polls. The Zags started the preseason ranked 23rd, so it's been a slow climb so far, but with no real marquee wins that's to be expected. We'll find out much more about Gonzaga in their next three games when they play Notre Dame (5-2), Illinois (6-0) and Michigan State (4-2). Don't forget Michigan State started the season 0-2 after playing then No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Duke, but have now reeled off four straight wins.
- St. Mary's, one of the favorites to win the WCC has been a bit of an enigma out of the block. The Gaels are 3-1, but the one loss was a 70-58 loss at Denver. That's a head scratcher!
- The other team that could make some noise in the WCC is Santa Clara. Consistency will be the issue for the Broncos. They are 4-2 on the year so far and went 2-1 at the 76 Classic in Anaheim over the weekend. The Broncos beat New Mexico and Villanova, while losing to Oklahoma in the semi-finals.
- San Diego has started 4-2, after going 6-24 last year. Loyola Marymount has a win at UCLA, sure UCLA isn't that great, but it's a good win for the Lions and Pepperdine has a win at Arizona State. It looks like a three horse race in the West Coast Conference between Gonzaga, BYU and St. Mary's, but somebody else is going to give these teams fits at some point this year when conference plays rolls around.
Names and Games to Watch in the WCC
Here are a few names and games BYU fans should keep their eyes on. Barring any injuries, these will be guys Cougar fans will get to see at least twice during the regular season and then even more at the WCC Tournament, February 29 through March 5 down at the Orleans in Las Vegas.
- It starts with Santa Clara and their guard line. The Broncos have a tandem at the guard spots that is likely the best in the West Coast Conference. Evan Roquemore (So.) and Kevin Foster (Jr.) are 1-2 right now in overall scoring in the West Coast Conference. Some have had Foster touted as the pre-season Player of the Year in the WCC. Roquemore just earned WCC Player of the Week and was an all-tournament selection at the 76 Classic in Anaheim over the weekend.
- At Gonzaga, there are the "big" names in Robert Sacre and Elias Harris, those are the two you hear about most when you talk Gonzaga, but you'll start to hear the name of Freshman Kevin Pangos a lot more as the season moves along. Pangos is 6th in WCC scoring, averaging 15.8 points per game.
Two games to watch:
- Saturday, December 3, BYU vs. Oregon in Salt Lake City at the EnergySolutions Arena. 2:30 p.m. pre-game and 3 p.m. tip off on KSL Newsradio and the BYU Radio Sports Network.
- Gonzaga (4-0) at Illinois (6-0) tipping at 1:15 p.m.
A big weekend for former Cougar and Ute connections nationally:
- Former BYU Associate Head Coach Dave Rice led UNLV to a 90-80 win over then No. 1 North Carolina in the final of the Las Vegas Invitational on Saturday. Yes, the game was in Vegas (at the Orleans), but a large glow of Tar Heel Blue was in the crowd so there was plenty of North Carolina support. The Rebels (7-0) jumped to No. 18 in the AP poll this week after being unranked previously.
- Former Utah head man Rick Majerus, now the head coach with St. Louis has the Bilikens playing inspired basketball. St. Louis is 6-0 and now ranked 23rd after beating Boston College, Villanova and Oklahoma to win the 76 Classic over the weekend in Anaheim.
Randolph Fairbairn is the studio analyst during BYU Basketball broadcasts on KSL Newsradio 102.7FM/1160AM