By Jeff Jordan
BYU”s quest for back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament starts tonight, Nov. 21, against in-state rival Southern Utah University.
The Cougars are off to a quick start in preseason play, winning both of their matchups against exhibition teams.
But head coach Steve Cleveland said he won”t let preseason success taint his team”s performance.
“The reality of the situation is that you”ve got to earn what you get,” Clevelad said. “[Past success] won”t get us one defensive stop or help us score one point.”
SUU struggled against its preseason opponents, losing two close games to Global Sports and Utah Showcase by a combined total of seven points.
“We”re not supposed to win tomorrow night; everybody knows that,” said SUU head coach Bill Evans. “And it”s a real hard place to play, but we certainly think we can win.”
The Thunderbirds are led by junior point guard Jason Baker who lit up Utah Showcase for 29 points on Saturday.
“Jason is a great shooter,” Evans said. “When you”re a great shooter and you”re also a point guard, there”s a lot of pressure on you, and Jason”s done a great job of mixing the two.”
Losing to a traditionally low ranked team like SUU could spell early disaster for BYU”s plans to return to the NCAA tournament.
But Coach Cleveland said he is going to take this season one game at a time.
“The success you have in the preseason is going to have an effect on your ranking,” Cleveland said. “But seeding in the NCAA tournament is the last thing on my mind because there are so many things for us to get there.”
Tipoff for tonight”s game at the Marriott Center is at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the Marriott Cneter ticket office. Students with All-Sport passes will be admitted free.
Game notes: Center Jake Schoff won”t be dressing for the Cougars tonight. He had his knee scoped on Saturday. Return date is uncertain … Austin Ainge had surgery on a broken finger on Tuesday and will be out four to six weeks … When asked what he was doing to prepare for SUU”s game versus BYU, Coach Evans jokingly replied, “Praying. Lots of fasting and praying.”