The Cougars face Pacific and Saint Mary’s, post-season berth in balance

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The race to finish the conference in a winning position is heated, and the ability for the Cougars to withstand teams on the road increases as they visit an unfamiliar venue in Pacific and face Saint Mary’s on the road.

The Cougars have a chance to solidify themselves as second-place finishers in the WCC, and an outside shot at first, if they can handle their road tests. As the games get more physical toward the end of the season, a winning mentality will require a physical strategy.

Defense is that strategy. Bodies were pushed around, and many players were the recipients of tough foul calls and physical blows last weekend against the Broncos and Dons. The key for the Cougars is to match that intensity on defense and find a way to win on the road.

Tyler Haws shoots the ball during a Jan. 30 game in the Marriott Center against Pacific. Haws led the Cougars with 38 points. Photo by Sarah Hill.
Tyler Haws shoots the ball during a game against Pacific Jan. 30th. Haws led the Cougars with 38 points. Photo by Sarah Hill.

“The key to this road trip is to stay out of foul trouble and defend the three-point line,” said BYU head coach Dave Rose. “Those are things that have hurt us in some of our past road games in league. It’s so important to be physical, and we need to find a way to be more physical and foul less if that’s possible.”

The Cougars are 10-1 at home in the Marriott Center but to this point have dropped four games on the road in conference, making winning away ever so important as they finish off the season.

“I think you can feel it from the guys,” Rose said. “They realize that we’re in a position where the games are really important; they mean a lot. I think our sport is unique to the fact that there is always the tournament at the end, but I do believe that our guys know the standings and the weight of every game now.”

For the majority of the season, BYU has enjoyed reasonable success scoring the ball. Tyler Haws, averaging nearly 24.5 points per game this season, ranks third in the country in that category, but as the season winds down, teams competing to get to the “big dance” are changing their strategy to get an edge.

Haws has risen to eighth all-time on BYU’s scoring list, but his presence has been no greater than when he keeps the guys around him grounded. Looking too far ahead could draw the team’s focus off the next game and disrupt its rhythm.

“Every game there’s something at stake in this league,” Haws said. “I just worry about us working hard and getting better as a team, taking this one game at a time.”

Though young and relatively inexperienced, Eric Mika has come into his own as a freshman, clinging to a physical style of play, most recently pulling in two double-doubles in last week’s games against Santa Clara and San Francisco.

He and junior forward Nate Austin, who grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds against the Dons, bring the physicality necessary to finish the year on a winning note, especially on the road.

“Every game you play in this conference is going to be physical,” Mika said. “No matter what, you’re going to get hit; you can expect that.”

As a sophomore, and in the same position as his teammate, Haws was coming back from a mission; Kyle Collinsworth has brought energy and focus to the team in ways Rose doesn’t usually see.

“I believe that Kyle’s effect on our team this year is every bit as consistent and matches the effect that Tyler had on our team a year before,” Rose said. “You could compare stats, and maybe that’s not fair, but the effect on our team and ability to play multiple minutes and continue to win has had huge impact.”

Catch the Pacific (13-10, 4-8) game Thursday, Feb. 13, at 9:00 p.m. on ROOT Sports, and Saint Mary’s (18-7, 8-4), Saturday, Feb. 15, at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN2.

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