PROVO — When Hawaii basketball coach Gib Arnold suited up for BYU coach Dave Rose when both were at Dixie State College nearly 20 years ago, Arnold was a scrappy, hard-nosed and tough player.
In Arnold's first season as the head coach of the Rainbow Warriors, his players are already displaying that same character.
"He's a real competitor, and his guys compete hard and play hard," Rose said in preparation for today's game against Hawaii at EnergySolutions Arena. "This is a totally different Hawaii team than the team we played (and beat 83-65) over there last year."
The Rainbows (5-1) are different because they are shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, opened the season with five straight wins before losing a tough game earlier this week at Cal-Poly, and have five players averaging in double figures — Bill Amis (15.8 points per game), Joston Thomas (12.7 ppg), Hiram Thompson (12.5), Bo Barnes (11.5) and Zane Johnson (11.3).
"I think it's a real confident team. ... Gib has done a great job in a short period of time of improving their personnel. Plus, he's got them believing they can win," Rose said.
The No. 21 Cougars (7-0) aren't exactly lacking in confidence after three straight wins away from the Marriott Center, including Wednesday night in front of a hostile crowd at Creighton.
Perhaps the biggest value from that win over the Bluejays is the manner in which BYU came out on top. Creighton focused all of its defensive energy on stopping BYU's backcourt — Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery.
BYU's post players, however, came through when needed and showed the Cougars don't have to light it up from outside to win.
"I think we're getting tougher," Emery said. "We've kind of had different challenges. ... We're figuring out that we need to find ways to win."
Freshman center Brandon Davies, who played only one minute against Utah State a couple of weeks back, and made only 1-of-10 shots against South Florida last Friday, came back to score a career-high 24 against Creighton on 9-of-11 shooting.
"I'm just playing hard and aggressive on both ends, and that's what I should be doing," Davies said.
The Cougars, through Davies, really took advantage of the one-on-one matchup they had down low with Creighton the entire game. In fact, Davies scored BYU's final 13 points of the game.
"He just felt comfortable with the space and then attacked really well. And then our guys just started getting confidence in him and started throwing the ball into the post," Rose said.
Davies' improvement is no accident. He's been putting in extra time at practice and working extra hard since sitting on the bench against Utah State got his attention.
NOTES: Sophomore forward Chris Collinsworth is still nursing a painful sprain of his left ankle and will not play today. He is also doubtful for Wednesday's game in Glens Falls, N.Y. ... Today's game is being played at EnergySolutions Arena because of a conflict with Christmas Around the World at the Marriott Center, and because Rose did not want to play five straight games away from Utah.
Cougars on the air
No. 21 BYU (7-0) vs. Hawaii (5-1)
Today, 4 p.m.
TV: BYUtv Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM