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With only nine games remaining in the regular schedule, and coming off a weekend loss against the University of San Diego that dropped the Cougars to 15-7 overall and 5-4 in West Coast Conference play, BYU is facing an uphill battle toward reaching the NCAA tournament. BYU head coach Dave Rose, whose team has lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, understands the predicament the Cougars are in.
“One thing that is really apparent to all of us is that the way we play, and how we play … right now the margin of error is really thin,” Rose said.
Rose also discussed the challenges facing the team after unexpected consecutive losses over the past two weeks.
“The thing that is a little surprising to me, from this two-week period, is that our guys have responded so well all year long after a loss, they have been unbelievable after the San Diego State loss, and it has kind of carried on from there,” Rose said. “We didn’t get that same response this week at San Diego.”
Many factors contributed to the loss against USD, including senior guard Anson Winder recovering from an injury as well as still not having the services of senior forward Nate Austin. However, Rose focused his comments on the importance of intangibles, such as flow and rhythm, throughout the show.
“The way we play, and how we’ve built this system over the past 10 years, there is a lot of intangibles that I call flow and rhythm, and we've got to get into a flow where we are all feeling good,” Rose said.
Rose continued by discussing his belief that the biggest factor in the last week’s loss was the disconnect between the five players on the court.
“I like the way these guys individually are participating in the cause, which is trying to win the game, but this game against San Diego I didn’t feel that we were connected in any way,” Rose said. “I just felt like there were five guys out there trying to do it by themselves, and we need each other. This is what we are really going to concentrate on … hopefully we can get connected.”
While Rose focused on the importance of regaining a cohesive feeling together as a team, he wasn’t shy about admitting the hurdle the team faces in regards to injuries, particularly Winder’s knee injury.
Winder, who started the season coming off the bench, was recently inserted into the starting lineup as the Cougars transitioned to primarily playing with a four-guard lineup. Winder played exceptionally in his new role. Winder injured his knee against Loyola Marymount on Jan. 10, and didn’t play last week against Pacific or Saint Mary’s. Rose expounded on the hardships placed on the team because of Winder’s injuries.
“We missed Anson two weeks ago on the road trip, and we tried to bring him back this week, and I think physically he was ready … he played a lot of minutes … but he wasn’t as effective as he has been,” Rose said. “That is hard to recover from. We are already down a couple guys, so we need all of our guys to really step up and play well.”
On a positive note, BYU’s plethora of injuries has opened up playing time for some younger Cougars, especially freshman forward Dalton Nixon. Nixon posted eight points and three rebounds against USD, and finds himself with an increased role coming off the bench.
“Dalton’s minutes from Pacific and Saint Mary’s, and then against San Diego, got him in a pretty good rhythm,” Rose said. “We are going to need him.”
Because of the numerous injuries facing the Cougars, Rose has considered changing his starting lineup again, perhaps moving away from the four-guard lineup and back to a more traditional lineup.
“There’s times where we have thought about starting a bigger lineup,” Rose said. “Dalton could play that four position, and maybe make some changes at the five … there are a lot of things that are on the table.”
However, the Cougars, who lead the NCAA in scoring, have found success with a four-guard lineup when healthy. The final factor in personnel decisions may rest on the responsiveness of Winder’s aching knee.
“A lot of it depends on just how consistently we can get Anson to practice,” Rose said. “We need Anson to really play a lot in practice to be effective in games, and if that knee is just going to allow him to partially practice, we may make an adjustment.”
In connection with the show’s theme about regaining a connected feel as a team, Rose touted the ability of assistant coach Tim LaComb, who was this week’s radio guest, to improve the locker room morale.
“His ability to influence the guys for good, as far as how we play and how we stay together, is just tremendous,” Rose said. “There are tangible things that you can really measure … but how you get guys to feel engaged and dedicated to your program, that is what Tim is really good at.”
LaComb, who has been a part of Rose’s staff at BYU for eight years, discussed his love for coaching this particular team.
“We said it from day one, we really love coaching this team,” LaComb said. “We have guys with really strong personalities and really great abilities, but for the most part this team has really tried to give of themselves. This team is really likable, a fun team to be around, and it’s a team you’re proud of.”
The Cougars, who returned 11 players from last year’s roster, are familiar with the adversity they are facing. Currently the Cougars hold a 5-4 record in conference play. At this point of the season last year, BYU was also 5-4 in conference play, but went on to finish 8-1 with an appearance in the WCC tournament championship, as well as an at large bid to the NCAA tournament.
BYU still has opportunities left to improve its resume to the NCAA selection committee. Currently, BYU is 3-5 against top 100 RPI teams, with at least two more top 100 RPI games on schedule, against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga, and a possibility of an additional two games during the WCC tournament in Las Vegas. Last season, BYU received an at large bid to the tournament with eight top 100 RPI wins.
Rose and the Cougars understand the urgency facing the team, which plays the University of San Francisco and Santa Clara University this coming weekend. Rose held a meeting with the team captains this week to gauge the feel and morale of the team.
“I was talking with the captains today in my office … their theme was let’s take it one day at a time,” Rose said. “I was really impressed with their approach, and hopefully we can get that with all of the guys, and still have a great feel going into this game on Thursday, even though there is a bit of desperation for us.”
BYU squares off against USF on Thursday at 9 p.m. MST and against LMU on Saturday at 7 p.m. MST.
Trevor Woller is a public realtions student at Brigham Young University and sports enthusiast.