Despite injuries, Cougars are feeling confident as they host Gonzaga in WCC opener

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PROVO — With a record of 10-3, the BYU basketball team enters its West Coast Conference opener against Gonzaga Saturday with confidence and a three-game winning streak.

The Cougars were picked second behind Gonzaga in the WCC preseason polls, and with the 11-1 Bulldogs getting a lot of attention as a possible Final Four team, BYU knows it has to be firing on all cylinders to upset the eighth-ranked team in the nation.

“Not only are they deep, they’re diverse,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “They’re really good in the post, as post oriented offensive team as we’ve played for quite a while, and then they’ve got great shooters to surround them.”

The Cougars beat the Bulldogs in Provo last season but lost in Spokane, Washington, and in the championship game of the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. Getting the Zags right out of the gate is a challenge, but guard Kyle Collinsworth is looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s good because it’s at home, so we’ll have home-court advantage,” Collinsworth said. “I think it’s good for our younger guys and just our team to see that this is our conference; this is the best of our conference, Gonzaga … to be able to play them first, I like it.”

Being at their best may be difficult for the Cougars. Tyler Haws is still nursing an injured ankle suffered at Weber State on Dec. 13. Haws has not missed any games since the injury but was clearly slowed down by it in BYU’s overtime win over UMass Tuesday.

“I think he’s getting better, but it’s far from being 100 percent,” said Rose. “With Ty’s situation right now, he’s a really tough kid and so he wants to play in the game. The issue is practice time; he’s not getting any live practice now … I know he’s going to want to play in every game. (We’ll) just have to monitor and see how it feels. He says it’s feeling better today than it did the day before the UMass game. That’s kinda where we’re going from there.”

Collinsworth, who knows all about coming back from an injury, doesn’t doubt that Haws will play against the Zags.

“It’s just about getting his ankle better, and you don’t want him to go live and risk reinjuring it in practice," Collinsworth said. "Ty’s a gamer so he’ll be ready. I’m not worried about Ty.”

Haws isn’t the only player who is hurting heading into the conference opener. Chase Fischer was injured when he ran into a pick against UMass. Fischer did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, but Rose is hopeful that the redshirt junior can give it a go Saturday.

“Chase got hit pretty good. He was shut down for two days. The trainers let him do a little bit today," Rose said. "His headaches haven’t come back yet and hopefully his mind is still pretty clear and we can get him cleared to play (Saturday).”

Even when a team is at full strength, it helps to have other guys step up and take some of the load off of the players getting the majority of the minutes. In the case where Haws and Fisher are not 100 percent, it becomes even more important to get contributions from other individuals.

“The most important thing for us is these guys who will get added opportunities … They get a lot more time with the other guys that are playing a lot of minutes," Rose said. "Hopefully those guys can step up and really take advantage of the opportunity."

As for how the Cougars believe they can slow down the Zags, the answer is to speed them up.

“They’re a very good team,” said Collinsworth. “They have a lot of size and they use it very well. The challenge is to play at our pace and make them adjust.”

Saturday's game gets underway at 4 p.m. MT at the Marriott Center. The game can be heard on KSL NewsRadio beginning with pregame coverage at 3 p.m. MT.

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Jason Shepherd


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