As BYU looks to record back-to-back wins for the first time in more than a month, the Cougars are dealing with an injury to starting center Eric Mika that has the freshman's status for Thursday's home game with Pepperdine in question.
Mika was hurt during Saturday night's home win over San Diego, when he was upended while closing out to Johnny Dee in the three-point corner. After landing hard on his back and hip, Mika continued to play, but his playing time was limited to a season-low 17 minutes, and he was clearly laboring in his time spent on the floor.
X-rays and other scans were negative, but Mika has still been unable to practice this week. After practice on Wednesday at the Marriott Center, head coach Dave Rose said Mika is "getting better every day."
"He did a little bit today in practice," said Rose, "(but) not much. We'll just see how he feels tomorrow."
"Hopefully, somehow, he gets to where it feels comfortable enough that we get a few minutes out of him (against Pepperdine). We'll wait and see tomorrow what we've got to work with."
If Mika is unavailable or limited against the Waves, expect Nate Austin to move from power forward to center, with Rose adding that "Josh (Sharp) and Luke (Worthington) will get a chance a lot earlier" to play inside. Sharp practiced on Thursday as the first-unit 'four,' with Austin in the post.
As for the rest of his rotation, Rose said he plans to stick with his new guard line of Kyle Collinsworth, Skyler Halford and Tyler Haws, with Matt Carlino continuing to come off the bench. In the first game with Halford starting in place of Carlino, v. San Diego, BYU turned in its best defensive performance of the season, while Halford recorded a career-high 28 points.
"I think Matt will be our backup point guard right now," Rose said on Wednesday. "I really believe the defensive presence at the point with Kyle is good for this group."
Rose said he has been pleased with his team's response to both the recent lineup change and the four-game losing streak that preceded it. The Cougars got off to an 0-2 start in West Coast Conference play after consecutive losses in Los Angeles--falling to both Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine during the final weekend of 2013--before bounding back with the weekend home win over the Toreros.
"What they've shown us since they've been back from L.A. has been really good," said Rose. "Their attitude has been good, their effort has been good, the energy in practice has been good, and the one game we've played has been good."
The Waves saw a four-game win streak snapped Saturday at San Francisco--a game in which wing Malcolm Brooks sprained an ankle late in the first half and did not return. A perfect 4-for-4 from the floor at the time of the injury, Brooks watched as his teammates lost a double-digit lead and got steamrolled in the second half, with the Dons turning a 27-19 halftime deficit into a 76-66 victory.
Rose said he is planning as if Brooks will be able to play against BYU. In the Malibu meeting, won by the Waves 80-74, Brooks set a new career high with 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including a 6-for-9 performance from the three-point line.
Brooks and starting point guard Jeremy Major combine with starting bigs Stacy Davis and Brendan Lane to give Pepperdine one of the best starting groups in the WCC.
"They were a really good defensive team last year," said Rose of the Waves on Wednesday. "Offensively, they've got a lot more firepower (this season)."
"When you see a team that was pretty competitive last year, and all the guys who were starting are now all their reserves, you know that the team has actually really improved."
Rose says "the real challenge for us tomorrow will be to handle these post guys, but still be able to guard the perimeter." At Firestone Fieldhouse ten days ago, Pepperdine made 13 of 24 three-point attempts.
"There are things that we need to do differently," Rose said about his team's defensive performance at the arc. "This league is really good at shooting the three-point shot (WCC leads NCAA Division I in 3PFG%), (but) the challenge with Pepperdine is that...when you bring a second defender (to the post), then those guards space the floor really well--there is so much space that you have to cover."
"We're just going to have to be really attentive to what (defense) we are in and how we rotate out of those things."
You can hear post-practice interviews with Rose and guards Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth, in "Cougar Cuts," above left.
Thursday night's game against Pepperdine tips at 7:05 p.m. at the Marriott Center; radio pregame coverage gets underway at 6:00 on KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM, byucougars.com and BYU Radio.