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The last time the BYU basketball team played a game outside the state of Utah, Thanksgiving turkeys were still in the freezer, and the Cougars were being soothed by ocean breezes.
Not since the Maui Invitational in late November have the Cougars played a game they had to reach via air travel. BYU has played nine games post-Maui: six home games, two in-state away games (at Utah State and Weber State), and a neutral-court game in Salt Lake City.
Now comes the Cougars' first West Coast Conference road swing, through Santa Clara and San Francisco, this Thursday and Saturday.
"The two true road games we've played this year, we've played well and won both of those," said BYU head coach Dave Rose after Tuesday afternoon's Marriott Center practice. "It will be interesting to see with the intensity and feel of a road game, how we respond. We'll need great leadership. Our seniors and our captains are going to be guys we really depend on, but then again, it will be interesting to us, and our staff, to see how some of these younger guys actually step up and perform for us on the road."
"It's a completely new season," said senior guard Anson Winder of the start of league play and BYU's road weekend. "It's a big deal and we're excited for the challenge that we have. We let one slip (in a loss to Gonzaga) to start off, but we're back on track. We hope to go on the road and win on the road."
"It's easy to stay together here at home...but the key when you go into a hostile environment is just to stay together and stick to our keys and hopefully come out with a win."
Rose's team bounced back from last weekend's WCC-opening loss to the Zags with a Monday night home win over Portland that featured a new four-guard starting lineup. The lineup produced 97 points, with 95 points coming from the starting and bench guards. Rose says less important than the point-contribution percentages from backcourt versus frontcourt players is the notion that everyone on the floor contribute in one way or another.
"One thing about winning on the road in league," says Rose, "is that you have to have help from a lot of guys; you can't just depend on a small group of guys. Sometimes, at home, you can, and get through it. On back-to-back road games, there are a lot of things that can determine how that second game goes after the first game. Hopefully we can find a group of 11 or 12 guys that we can really depend on."
Of the smaller starting lineup, which BYU has used extensively during games in recent weeks, Winder says "we're starting to solidify our rotations a little bit better now, and we're finding ourselves; the type of style, the type of lineups we have are definitely starting to form. This is definitely a time to peak and hopefully we can get on a run in conference (play) and win some games."
A greater role could soon be in store for freshman center Corbin Kaufusi, who has averaged 20-plus minutes over the last three games, after injuries limited his playing time earlier in the season.
Among rotation regulars, Kaufusi leads the team in field-goal percentages, and Rose says the increased playing in recent games has been a great benefit, "not only to where he feels more comfortable, but the players around want him on the floor--which is a really good thing, a positive thing, and should be a real confidence builder for Corbin, and for the guys playing with him. There are just things he can do for us, the more comfortable he feels out there."
BYU point guard Kyle Collinsworth on Tuesday picked up his second WCC Player of the Week award this season, after three games last week that saw him average 17.3 points, 11 rebounds and six assists per game. Collinsworth is the league's only repeat honoree so far this season.
Rose says the need to monitor Collinsworth's continued recovery from ACL surgery is more acute in conference play.
"It's going to be hard," Rose said, "for me to play him 37 or 38 minutes on Thursday and then try to get to 37 or 38 minutes out of him on Saturday and have him be really, really effective."
"That will kind of be our challenge, to manage that a little bit."
Thursday afternoon's game at Santa Clara pits the WCC's highest-scoring team in BYU (88.1 points per game) against the lowest-scoring outfit in Santa Clara (62.9 points per game).
Rose says despite the disparity in productivity, he still expects the Broncos to be handful on their home floor.
"(SCU head coach) Kerry (Keating) has a really explosive team," Rose observed. "The guards on this team are as good as any set of guards in the league."
"(Jared) Brownridge and (Brandon) Clark are guys who can have huge nights, and they do it sometimes when you've executed defensively exactly what you wanted to execute and how you wanted to execute it. They're just really good offensive players. (Santa Clara is) really creative in the stuff that they run. They found a couple of post guys who can stretch the floor now and shoot. Their offense is a lot more balanced."
BYU and Santa Clara will tip it on Thursday at 3:00 p.m. MST, with pregame coverage on KSL Newsradio starting at 2:00.
"With the students being gone," Rose says, "and it's an afternoon game on New Year's Day...hopefully we'll have a great basketball game and that some of our fans in the Bay Area will show up and help our guys."