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Shorthanded during last week's split decision at Pacific and St. Mary's, the BYU basketball team returns to the West Coast Conference road this weekend, visiting San Diego for a Saturday matinee.
Head coach Dave Rose said on Thursday that guard Anson Winder is ready to play again after missing both games last week with a knee sprain, but big man Nate Austin has re-injured his hamstring and will not be ready to take on the Toreros.
"Today was probably the toughest day for (Winder), just recovering from a couple of hard practices," said Rose. "I anticipate that he'll feel good...and hopefully we'll have him for the game on Saturday."
Rose said that Austin had returned to the practice floor this week after nearly a month and a half on the sidelines, and "had a really good practice" on Wednesday.
"Then in the last two minutes of our last drill, he tweaked that (hamstring) again," Rose said. "He won't play this week. Doctors will examine it while we're gone and we'll see what the situation is on Monday. It's really unfortunate."
Asked if he feels the Cougars have been snake-bit regarding injures this season, guard Kyle Collinsworth, he himself having recovered from offseason ACL-repair surgery, said said "a little bit."
"It's obviously rough, but there's not much you can do. It doesn't do any good to think about it. We just try to play through it and stay together. When we get everyone healthy, it's going to help us in the long run at the end of the year."
BYU enters the final game of a three-game road stretch at 5-3 in conference play, and 0-3 against the three teams ahead of it in the league standings (Gonzaga, St. Mary's and Pepperdine). While BYU's RPI and other significant metrics remain respectable, a strong season-ending run will likely be required to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
"I don't ever talk about it with the (players)," said Rose when asked if he specifically addresses his team's postseason prospects during the heat of the regular-season campaign. "I haven't in the ten years I've been here (as head coach)."
"They all have the same feeling: that we can we win every game we play. We believe that, for every game that's left on this schedule. Some of the these games have come right down to the wire, and it's just a play or two that can make a real big difference. Hopefully we can find a way to make those plays."
Qualifying for the NCAA tournament is "a huge motivation," according to Collinsworth. "Obviously, it's a big goal of ours. But at this time of the seasons, you have to have a game-to-game mindset. Every game is important, and we have to put all of our efforts on Saturday's game."
Visiting San Diego provides the latest bounce-back opportunity for BYU, which lost to St. Mary's last Saturday, dropping Rose's team to 15-6 on the season. The resilient Cougars have followed their previous five losses with a win in the ensuing game.
Ten games remain in BYU's regular-season slate; five at home and five on the road. Rose's previous three WCC slates have concluded with ten-game runs of 7-3 (2011-12), 5-5 (2012-13) and 8-2 (2013-14). Winder's sights are set on a stellar closing stretch.
"We're far from being done," Winder said on Thursday. "There are ten games left. We go on ten-game win streak, and things change. Things aren't lost, nothing's broken. We come to practice every day with our hard hats on, ready to grind it out and get better every day. It's just a work in progress."
Looking ahead to Saturday's matchup at USD, Rose said "it has been four years of (Torero senior guards) Johnny Dee and Chris Anderson, and you see those guys just mature in their roles."
"(San Diego) always has two big, strong, athletic guys on the floor, then (Dee and Anderson) are scary. If they both have a good night on the same night, that's when (the Toreros) have been the most successful. For us, we have to figure out a way to handle one of them--and hopefully both of them."
Saturday's game at San Diego (9-11, 2-6) tips at 2:05 p.m. MST. You can hear the game on KSL Newsradio starting with pregame coverage at 1:00.