By MASON B. NIEDERHAUSER
The BYU men’s basketball team is facing the golf equivalent of a downhill four-foot par putt this weekend as it welcomes Hawaii and San Diego State to the Marriott Center.
Like the seemingly easy putt, the Cougars find themselves in a position where success is expected against the 2-7 Rainbow Warriors and the 0-9 Aztecs. However, as any golfer can attest, all it takes is one brief lapse of concentration and everyone is left standing with blank looks on their faces, wishing they had another chance.
This weekend’s activities at the Marriott Center mark the second time this season that BYU has gone up against these two teams. In the last meetings BYU defeated both teams on their home courts.
Hawaii proved to be the biggest challenge of the two during the first round, as BYU squeaked out a 60-59 come-from-behind victory capped by Mekeli Wesley’s last second three pointer.
Despite Wesley’s heroics, head coach Steve Cleveland said, this time around, he would rather not wait until the buzzer sounds to realize a victory.
“We can’t get behind like we did in Hawaii and expect to repeat that performance,” Cleveland said.
After being handed their fourth straight conference loss by No. 14 Utah last week, the Cougars are trying to learn from the past.
Sophomore big-man Mark Michaelis is applying a twist on the golden rule.
“We need to be as physical with others as Utah was to us,” Michaelis said. “We can learn a lot from Utah.”
BYU could learn from the rebounding clinic the Utes put on last Saturday night, when they out-boarded the Cougars 41-28. Junior forward Silester Rivers recognized that BYU could improve that area of its game.
“We have to do a better job rebounding, especially on the offensive boards,” Rivers said.
Just one and a half games ahead of Hawaii, the Cougars find themselves in a position where a win now could alleviate future heartache as they strive to reach the WAC Championships in Las Vegas.
“We have to get these games or we dig ourselves a hole,” Rivers said. “We don’t want it to have to come down to the last few games like it did last year.”
As for Saturday night, Cleveland said he would be happy with a repeat performance of last month’s game against the Aztecs.
“We may have played our best game in terms of execution against San Diego State in January,” Cleveland said.
The Cougars played a balanced game in defeating San Diego 83-76, getting help off the bench from seniors Danny Bower and Brian Dignon.
The Cougar bench will be significant again in this weekend’s action, as it is unlikely starting point guard Michael Vranes will play. Suffering from an injured knee, Vranes has not practiced with the team this week, but the coaching staff has not made a definite decision.
Tip-off against Hawaii will be tonight at 7, with Saturday’s game against San Diego State also beginning at 7 p.m.