The Cougars are on a three-game hot streak, beating San Diego, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount all at home. They take to the road this week, beginning a stretch of four important conference games, starting with San Francisco.
The Dons (11-7, 4-2) are second in the West Coast Conference and will host the Cougars in the first meeting between the two teams. Senior forward Cole Dickerson leads the way for the Dons, averaging 13.5 points and seven rebounds per game. He averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds in two games against the Cougars last season.
In the previous game between the two teams, the Dons hit 14 three-pointers, mostly off ball screens, terrorizing BYU’s defensive strategy. The Dons were able to come back from 15 down and beat the Cougars in Provo on Feb. 9 of last year, splitting the season series 1-1.
The Cougars showed their ability to contain shooters by playing stout second-half zone defense against LMU, holding the Lions to under 43 percent shooting and giving up a mere 10 points in the final 10 minutes of the game, and will need to do the same against San Francisco.
An energized zone defense, offensive rebounding and fast break points proved too much for the Lions, and the ability to consistently get after the ball on defense will lead to continued success, especially against a player like Dickerson. Head coach Dave Rose remembers the offensive nightmare Dickerson was to the Cougars last year.
“He is one of the best in the league at having the combination of a real post-up game, a drive game and still being able to shoot the three-point shot,” Rose said. “He’s got great size, and that match-up will be really important for us. He’s been a player that has really exploded against us.”
Freshman big man Eric Mika, who is coming off an injury sustained over a week ago, practiced Tuesday, and Rose is optimistic about his return to the starting lineup.
“I think that the game is a real physical game, and that is where he (Mika) really gives us a presence,” Rose said. “I anticipate he will be able to participate in practice Wednesday and be able to play on Thursday.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise from the last few games has been how junior guard Matt Carlino responded to being benched and replaced by junior guard Skyler Halford.
“I feel good; I feel good about everything,” Carlino said. “We’ve won the last three games, so it has been good. I just want to keep getting better, stay consistent in what I do and improve in the areas of the game the point guard should improve on.”
It is no surprise, however, that Tyler Haws has been playing well. His back-to-back 30-plus point nights earned him the WCC “Player of the Week” award, and he hopes to continue to build chemistry while on the road.
“There are no days off and no games off in the WCC,” Haws said. “Anytime you can come home and get three wins you definitely feel better about yourself, but you can’t let up. You got to still be aware of the challenge, and we’re ready to fight.”
The game will tip off at 7:00 p.m. MST and will be televised on ESPNU.