BYU Playing Best Basketball With Toughest Test Ahead
PROVO, Utah – BYU is playing its best basketball of the season. After losing to #4 Gonzaga by 30 points on January 31st, the Cougars have reeled off five-straight wins including two come-from-behind wins against San Diego and Loyola Marymount.
Historically, Dave Rose coached teams perform best in February with a record of 77-22 entering Thursday’s contest against San Francisco – so far this season, the Cougars are a perfect 5-0 in February.
“The guys come into the huddle with a real trust in each other and real confidence that we’ll get it done,” said Rose. “It’s really gratifying to watch a bunch of guys fight through hard stuff then reward them a little bit.”
The Cougars found a spark after the Gonzaga game when Rose decided to experiment with the starting lineup and rotation. The Cougars went away from Luke Worthington and Connor Harding opting instead for Nick Emery and Gavin Baxter.
“I felt that in Gav’s situation that his practices had been so good – we had tried this earlier in the year and it didn’t come to the point where we really wanted it,” said Rose. “We felt like we wanted to give it another go and he just took off with it.”
In Baxter’s first game in the starting lineup, he scored 25 points and pulled down 10 rebounds against Loyola Marymount. Baxter’s emergence has brought more attention from opposing defenses freeing up BYU’s star duo, Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws.
Facing San Francisco
While the Cougars are rolling, they face their two toughest opponents of the month this week in San Francisco and Gonzaga. BYU lost the previous matchups with both teams – a 19-point blow out against the Dons, and as mentioned above, a 30-point blowout to the Bulldogs.
But the Cougars are playing different basketball than when they first played San Francisco on January 19th and the Cougars are confident they’ll see a different outcome.
“They beat us pretty good at their place,” said Rose. “It’s kinda similar to the Saint Mary’s game – I feel the same focus from the guys. We didn’t play our best game at San Francisco by any means.”
“We weren’t playing like ourselves,” added forward Yoeli Childs. “We let the game get away from us a little bit and we started hucking shots offensively.”
San Francisco’s win against the Cougars snapped an 11-game losing streak for USF, but the Cougars still carry a six-game winning streak in the Marriott Center a place they’ve been dominant this season posting a 12-2 record.
“We’ve grown a lot since that game, this team has really matured,” said Rose. “If we get to a stretch where we don’t play really well offensively, we have the determination, fight, and grit to stay in there and guard.”
Closing In On Second Seed
On the forefront of the Cougars’ minds is the effect this game has for WCC tournament seeding. BYU is currently in second place leading USF by 2.5 games in the standings with three games remaining for the Cougars and four for the Dons.
“Earlier on in the season, a lot of teams didn’t see the best BYU team,” said guard Connor Harding. “We’re starting to find our rhythm and our flow – we’re excited to play these teams now – we’ve picked up defensively and offensively.”
While a win won’t clinch the No. 2-seed, it goes a long way in securing the seeding with BYU closing out the season at Gonzaga before returning home against San Diego – a team BYU beat just last week. On the other hand, the Dons travel to Santa Clara before returning home to face San Diego – a team the Dons lost to last month – and LMU.
“These next two weeks are obviously the most important two weeks of the season,” said Rose. “That’s really good to say because at one time I didn’t know what these two weeks would actually mean.”
The WCC changed the structure of the conference tournament this season with the top two seeds earning an automatic bye to the semi-finals so the stakes are high for Thursday’s matchup.
Dave McCann, the BYUtv voice of the Cougars joined KSL’s Unrivaled with Alex Kirry and Scott Mitchell to discuss the important stretch for BYU.
BYU and San Francisco will tip-off at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday. The game will be broadcast on BYUtv and KSL Newsradio.
BYU Cougars Scoreboard
BYU Cougars Team Leaders
BYU Cougars Standings