The day before his team's now once-annual meeting with the slumping Utah Runnin' Utes, BYU head coach Dave Rose closed practice, meeting with the media before Friday afternoon's Marriott Center session, and saying he wants his players to "leave it all up there" at the Huntsman Center on Saturday.
At 1-7 on the season, Utah is one of the worst statistical performers in the country, and is coming off its worst- ever Huntsman Center setback--an 81-50 loss to Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday night. Rose says the Utes are not without their strengths.
"They've got a really good point guard ("Jiggy" Watkins, suspended for the Fullerton loss but back for BYU) who can really score the ball, one of the best scorers in the Pac- 12," said Rose. "They've got a post guy (Jason Washburn) who can pass and score inside, and they've got a really good shooter on the wing, in (Chris) Hines."
"Those are the three things that you're looking for with any team...have they got shooters, have they got post guys and a point guard? They've got the makings of a really good team, in a position right now that (they're) trying to find themselves, with a lot of new players."
"It'll be our job to do the best we can to not let one or all of those players have career days."
Of Watkins, who had Monday's "indefinite" suspension lifted on Thursday, Rose said "I told my coaches (Thursday morning) to plan as if he was playing" against the Cougars on Saturday.
You can hear the media sessions with Rose and senior forward Charles Aboou by going to "Cougar Cuts" above.
Rose will take a relatively healthy team to Salt Lake City, with only redshirt freshman forward (and Utah transfer) Josh Sharp a question mark for the game. Rose says Sharp sprained an ankle in the Wednesday win over Weber State, did not practice on Thursday and would probably not practice today. "We'll just have to see how he is tomorrow," said Rose.
He noted that sophomore forward Chris Collinsworth remains scheduled for exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his injured knee next Tuesday, and that projected redshirt big man Ian Harward "is kind of banged up, and has missed practice the last day or two."
Saturday's noon tip (KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM and 1160 AM/BYU Radio-SiriusXM 143) is BYU's earliest start time of the season; "we won't have a shoot-around, so that will be a little different," said Rose before practice. "But you've got to play them when they come."
Rose and Abouo both addressed the notion that an underdog Utah team could be a "dangerous" team for the Cougars to face.
Rose: "When you talk about danger, the first think I think about is trying to win conference championships, and that's out of the picture. The danger of this game, to me, is the fact that it's right behind another really emotional Weber State game, an in-state game. We need to get ourselves at the same level we were the other night-- emotionally prepared to play a hard-fought, competitive, strong, physical team."
Abouo: "There can be (danger), if that's something you want to buy into, but we really don't look at which games we're favored to win. You've just got to go out there and compete, and expect to win a game, and that's what we're preparing to do."
The Cougars will follow Saturday's game with a week-long break from games for final exams. Baylor will then visit the Marriott Center on December 17th.
"The key for us," Rose says, "is that we won't play for another seven days, so let's go play, let's leave it all up there, and see how we do."
BYU has won five in a row and nine of ten in the series, with four wins in its last five visits to the Huntsman Center. Abouo reflected on the Cougars' most recent trip to the Hill, a 104-79 win January 11 of this year--a game in which Jimmer Fredette scored 47 points, including an iconic half-court, halftime heave.
"Honestly, I just remember Jimmer's night," said Abouo. "Our team really played well, as a group, but obviously that was a special night."
If they didn't outnumber Utah supporters in sheer attendance count, the BYU fans were a vocal majority in last season's Huntsman Center win. "Yeah, it was a little different," Abouo said on Friday. "We had a lot of fans there; it kind of felt like a neutral site game, with all the support we had. It's really fun to play up there...we're excited for the chance to do it again."