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LOS ANGELES — Never before had a Dave Rose coached BYU team lost three consecutive regular-season games — until Saturday night.
An 87-76 loss at Loyola Marymount in their West Coast Conference opener was also the third setback on the road for the Cougars in four tries – the latest disappointment in a recent string of disheartening endings.
“You can see some of the young inexperience of this group at times,” Rose said in a postgame interview with KSL’s Greg Wrubell.
In a game that was only close during the initial four minutes, the common inefficiencies plaguing a developing team were again exposed.
The Lions made eight — mostly uncontested — 3-pointers; were much more effective from the free-throw line; and took advantage of the Cougars’ starting frontcourt foul trouble to emerge victorious with some ease.
Dissecting the usual issues raises the same concerns that have circulated for weeks now.
Perhaps the talent level of the underclassmen created unrealistic expectations for this team, while the narrow margins of loss against nationally ranked teams like Oregon, UMass and Iowa State provided a body of work to defend the team’s potential to compete with the big boys.
Those close outcomes even caused some casual observers to deem December contests against Utah and Loyola Marymount as easy wins.
The key for us now is to believe in ourselves. You play really good teams and you get beat and it has an effect of guys' confidence. Not only their individual confidence as players but the confidence in each other.
And maybe this squad, which implements a 10-man rotation of three freshmen and a sophomore, as well as a junior college transfer, took the quality of both opponents that had their way with BYU for granted as well.
“The key for us now is to believe in ourselves,” Rose continued. “You play really good teams and you get beat and it has an effect of guys’ confidence. Not only their individual confidence as players but the confidence in each other.”
There isn’t anything as influential as wins in a young group’s confidence building, Rose said. However, the recurring struggles that have the Cougars on the outside of the projected March Madness field have underscored their inability to finish games — another task accomplished more frequently by veteran units.
Rose has spoken in-depth about capturing games decided by single digits, and in the first half of the 2013-14 season, BYU has also struggled to grasp those concepts.
With only two power conference wins to boast (Stanford and Texas) — although both came during arguably the most difficult stretch of the third strongest schedule in the country — the Cougars have to incorporate those lessons fast or they’ll be destined for a repeat entry in the NIT.
Nearing the midway point of the regular season and sitting just two games over .500, BYU enters a league slate over the next two weeks that will see it play two games in 10 days against the team picked to finish last in the West Coast Conference (Pepperdine), as well as home showdowns with San Diego and Loyola Marymount.
Rose implied that turning it around would take time in order for some players to mature, which is something conference play has offered BYU since joining the WCC. Yet two of the last three losses have shown that this team can’t afford to approach any game as a likely win.
While the Cougars own one of the best scoring averages in the country, saying the team defense needs work is an understatement.
Led on the block by the gifted 6-foot-10, 230-pound Eric Mika, the starting duo comprised of the freshman and junior Nate Austin down low were on the floor together for just 16:39 in the defeat.
Mika has spoken openly about the frustrating adjustment with new rules that specify light forearms and hand checks to post players are personal fouls.
He's undergoing a process that dictates he modify the defensive physicality he used in high school to own the area around the cylinder.
When Mika and Austin have to be yanked to avoid further foul-limit complications, attacking the paint becomes the opposition's focus.
A similar excuse can’t be made for the Cougars allowing LMU success behind the arc. Delayed rotations and the teetering identity between a zone/man-to-man defense have BYU guards playing subpar in protecting the basket.
Some good news did come when WCC favorite Gonzaga barely escaped Santa Clara’s upset bid Saturday night – a result that may suggest that the gap between BYU and the front-runner isn’t as substantial this season.
It could, however, just be wishful thinking.
Meanwhile, BYU prepares for what is setting up to be a must-win Dec. 30 in Malibu, Calif., against Pepperdine. The tip is scheduled for 8 p.m. MST. Kyle Spencer is a writer and content manager for ksl.com. You can follow him on twitter @kyledspencer.