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Spenser Heaps, KSL

BYU basketball sizes up big challenge in nonconference finale against Oral Roberts

By Sean Walker, | Updated - Dec. 27, 2019 at 9:52 p.m. | Posted - Dec. 27, 2019 at 6:26 p.m.

PROVO — The BYU basketball team has set out and accomplished a significant list of goals to open its first season under head coach Mark Pope.

The Cougars are 10-4 heading into Saturday’s nonconference finale against Oral Roberts (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) and rank No. 31 in the NCAA’s NET ratings and No. 11 nationally amongst mid-majors. They boast four double-digit scorers, average 77.8 points per game, and rank fourth in the NCAA with 358 3-point field goals made.

So what’s left to accomplish before opening West Coast Conference play in a week?

"We'd like to win, just win," said Pope. "Win one game here."

Winning is the ultimate example, and if BYU does that — something it has accomplished against everyone on its schedule save No. 15 San Diego State, Boise State, No. 5 Kansas and Utah — they’ll be in a good spot to make a run at a conference title and an NCAA Tournament berth.

But there is one key challenge to overcome against the Golden Eagles, who are off to a 7-5 start in the third season under coach Paul Mills (29-46): the glass.

"In the nonconference, we started out with these huge rebounding challenges, and now we’re finishing nonconference with a massive rebounding challenge," Pope added. "If this team (Oral Roberts) has had any identity since Paul has been there, it’s been how well they rebound the ball."

With that challenge, all eyes will turn to a BYU front line that boasts 6-foot-8 Yoeli Childs, who averages a double-double at 20.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in his first five games of the year, and fellow senior Dalton Nixon, who averages 8.6 points and 4.6 boards.

But rebounding is more than those two — and will take a group effort against an Oral Roberts side that boasts fifth-year senior Emmanuel Nzekwesi, a top-20 scorer in program history with 1,197 points and 703 total rebounds.

"They are a really good rebounding team," Nixon said. "Our focus has been to improve every day, and that gives us an opportunity tomorrow, and as we go into conference (play) next week."

Kansas guard Isaiah Moss (4) fouls BYU forward Dalton Nixon (33) as he tries to shoot during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo: Marco Garcia, AP)

Injury report

BYU forward Kolby Lee, who sat out the Cougars’ last game against in-state foe Weber State, seems probable to make his return from a knee injury Saturday against the Golden Eagles.

The 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore, who averaged 7.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 12 games before his injury, returned to practice Friday and was seen moving through every drill during the Cougars’ final set of pregame preparations in the Marriott Center.

"He looked like he was moving around today, and we certainly need him tomorrow for at least a few minutes," Pope said. "We’ll see how he feels in about four hours, and then tomorrow morning will be the biggest marker."

A top-30 rebounding team nationally that pulls down 42.4 boards per game, the Golden Eagles start a pair of 6-foot-8 Texan forwards in Nzekwesi and Kevin Obanor, and can also bring in three more players that stand 6-foot-7 or bigger.

Pope at the movies

Pope isn’t just a Division I basketball coach, former NBA player and overall good guy; he’s also a father of four daughters and, apparently, an amateur film reviewer.

Here’s his latest take on the newly released "Little Women," directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Saorise Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen.

"We watched it last night, and I bawled my eyes out. It was great," Pope said. "All four girls were at home, and the girls were just dying laughing so hard while I’m crying. What an amazing universal experience about daughters and sisters."

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