NEW ORLEANS — By most accounts, the Florida Gators are bigger than BYU — more physical, too. Plus, they're quicker, more versatile and more athletic.
So tell the Cougars something they didn't already know. That's been the story since, when, 1903?
Can we move on already?
"I mean, it's just natural. We kind of expect that," said guard Jackson Emery. "A lot of these teams are more athletic than us. They're bigger, a lot of them, but we've just got to understand that and compete against that; we've just got to use that as a motivation, not as a downfall for us."
Thus far it seems to be working; the Cougars are 32-4.
When BYU and Florida meet Thursday in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, there are a couple of givens. First, Florida is a better "airport" team. That's the term coaches use to describe how good teams look when they're lounging in the boarding area. Florida looks like a nationally ranked basketball team. BYU resembles a fairly tall focus group. Emery, for instance, sometimes shows up in press conferences wearing glasses.
Didn't we see those specs on "Jeopardy!"?
Yet these are essentially the same Cougars — minus Brandon Davies — who beat essentially the same Florida Gators in overtime, last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I think they (Florida) are a real up-tempo team, they space the floor very well, they have great individual players who are hard to guard …" began BYU coach Dave Rose.
Enough. We get it. The Gators will be tough. That doesn't mean the Cougars are intimidated. In fact, they seem downright anxious to get back to work.
"Oh, they're excited," said Rose.
Fact is, the Cougars should be a combination of confidence and caution. They've been to the NCAA Tournament each of the last five years, and thus dealt with media — and plenty of it. The Traveling Jimmer Show has been going strong for at least 1½ seasons. They've also been underdogs, as they were Saturday against Gonzaga, even though they were seeded higher.
In terms of athleticism, it's not like the Cougars haven't previously faced good airport teams. For instance Arizona, UCLA, San Diego State and New Mexico — all athletically superior. Yet BYU beat all but UCLA at least once this year.
There's one other element the Cougars must consider: the distraction of playing in a city of big entertainment (New Orleans). But even that shouldn't faze them. The Cougars have been playing for 12 years in Las Vegas. They've seen distractions.
What does New Orleans have in the way of distraction that Las Vegas doesn't?
You won't see any white tigers or Blue Men in the Big Easy.
Dealing with distractions is a bigger issue than one might think, even for a duty-minded team like BYU. Until this season, BYU hadn't won in glitzy Las Vegas since 2005. But Rose won't lock them in their rooms this week.
"We went to a few things the last couple of years, (have) done a few more things than I did earlier in my career," Rose said.
He noted that in Buffalo this year for a non-conference game, he allowed the Cougars to stay at Niagara Falls. Yet nobody went over the falls in a barrel.
"There was a time in my career when I probably would have gone to Buffalo and said if we go to Niagara Falls, we'll jinx ourselves or something," he said.
So look out, French Quarter, the Diet Sprite Cougars are coming.
BYU practiced at the Marriott Center Monday afternoon, then flew to New Orleans on Tuesday. It looked like a team that has faced all of the above challenges and come out just fine. If there's one thing this year's team has shown, it's that it can take about all the talent and/or distractions anybody can throw at it.
"It's going to be tough matching against their athletic guys," said forward Noah Hartsock.
Yet the Cougars didn't appear nervous, intimidated or stressed out. They seemed confident and happy.
Only NCAA Tournament newbies are supposed to get sidetracked by that other stuff.
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