There were times when I thought we were the more physical team out there, which was a good sign for us.
PROVO — After splitting two games at the Chicago Invitational Challenge over the weekend, BYU has a better idea of where it stands six games into the season.
The Cougars (4-2) downed Nevada, 76-55, on Friday, then fell to No. 11 Wisconsin, 73-56, on Saturday in the championship game at the Sears Centre.
While that disappointing setback to the Badgers underscored some of BYU's weaknesses, it also gave the Cougars some confidence.
For most of the game, BYU hung tough with Wisconsin in what was a physical battle.
"There were times when I thought we were the more physical team out there, which was a good sign for us," said coach Dave Rose.
Rose also liked the leadership he saw from senior starters Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo.
"I think you could tell that Charles and Noah have played in these types of games against this type of competition," Rose said. "They played pretty well. We needed other guys to step up."
"We'll take a lot from this game," said forward Brandon Davies. "Mainly, we've got to be tougher as a team and work better together. We had a lot of chances."
For Rose, his job now is helping his players build on their performance as they prepare to travel to Northern Arizona on Wednesday, then face Oregon at Energy Solutions Arena on Saturday.
"What we really need to focus on as a staff is to make sure that this game helps us improve and doesn't set us back," he said. "That's always a challenge. How do you handle each team and deal with the next couple of days of practice? We've got a real challenge on Wednesday out on the road again. We'll see what happens."
Through six games, BYU has steadily improved, but it still has plenty of work to do.
The Cougars opened the season with a loss at Utah State before winning three consecutive home games and going 1-1 in Chicago.
Both of BYU's two defeats have a least one thing in common — the Cougars suffered extended scoring droughts in the second half.
"We're playing together as a team and much better, I think," said Hartsock, who poured in 18 points against Wisconsin. "But as soon we get down, maybe in those types of situations we kind of lose our edge. That's something we need to work on. When a team gets up late, with a few minutes left in the game, we've got to be able to keep competing, keep attacking. You can't worry about making little mistakes. We've got to keep playing hard."
Against the Badgers and All-America guard Jordan Taylor, BYU watched a tie game turn into a 22-point deficit during a stretch late in the contest. The Cougars allowed 13 3-pointers overall, including seven from reserve guard Ben Brust, who burst BYU's bubble. Taylor had 18 points and eight assists..
"We need to get better. There are a lot of things we need to do to get better," said Rose. "We kind of know where we are against an All-American. Jordan Taylor was able to break down some of our guards. He either got to the rim or made a great pass. That's why he's an All-American."
POINT, COUNTERPOINT: BYU is still searching for the right combination at point guard, as Anson Winder and Craig Cusick split time at that position against Wisconsin.
Winder, who started for the second consecutive game, played 21 minutes, recording zero points, three assists and one turnover. Cusick played 20 minutes and had two points, four assists and one turnover.
Another point guard, UCLA transfer Matt Carlino, will become eligible on Dec. 17 when the Cougars host Baylor.
RICE LEADS REBELS TO UPSET: Dave Rice, who served as an assistant to Rose for seven years before taking the reins of the UNLV program last spring, guided the Runnin' Rebels to a monumental 90-80 victory over No. 1 North Carolina Saturday night at the Orleans Arena in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational.