By AARON SHILL
The BYU men’s basketball team will be taking a few extra changes of clothes as it prepares for an extended road trip to PAC-10 country. And after a successful homestand, the Cougars will also be taking along some confidence as they face Oregon Saturday night in Eugene.
BYU erased a three-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a 89-71 win over Denver. The Cougars also scrapped until the last second with perennial powerhouse Arizona before falling in overtime 78-74 to the 11th-ranked Wildcats.
The team is winless on the road after two attempts. The Pacific Northwest road trip will test a Cougar squad that fell behind early in two previous road losses at Weber State and Auburn.
Turnovers have killed BYU on the road so far as the often jittery team has averaged 25 turnovers in games away from the Marriott Center. The Cougars, however, came home and cleaned up that statistic while forcing Arizona and Denver to cough up the ball 28 and 16 times, respectively.
The young and injury-laden Cougars have seemed to relax over the past two games. According to head coach Steve Cleveland, the players are becoming more comfortable with their roles.
“There really is an improved chemistry and an improved purpose in their play,” Cleveland said.
BYU will need to take care of the ball as it faces an up-tempo Oregon squad. The Ducks, who took home a win over BYU in Provo last year, scored a number of transition baskets in a game that Cleveland said the Cougars should have won.
According to the second year coach, BYU will need to establish the inside game early in order to compete with an Oregon team made up of athletic guards and solid perimeter shooters.
“If we just go man to man, perimeter to perimeter, we’re not going to win that battle,” Cleveland said.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, the injury-depleted front line will stay thin as Bret Jepsen continues to recover from a Eugene Edgerson elbow that knocked the junior center out of the Arizona game.
Jepsen’s absence will put more pressure on forwards Silester Rivers, Jacob Hawkins and Mark Michaelis to perform in the post. Rivers, who could have claimed the deed for the area underneath the basket against Denver, scored 26 points in BYU’s win over the Pioneers.
However, the six-foot-seven junior, who has undergone two early season knee surgeries, is still only 50 percent in terms of conditioning, Cleveland said.
According to Michaelis, the Cougars will need to control the boards and get back on defense to avoid falling behind early.
“If we do those things, we should be alright,” Michaelis said.