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BYU basketball: Cougars find life in the WCC similar to MWC

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 28 2012 11:29 p.m. MST

PROVO — When BYU announced in September 2010 that its basketball program would be joining the West Coast Conference, many wondered how different things would be compared to the Mountain West Conference.

While the opposing arenas are smaller, and the Cougars enjoyed increased exposure on the ESPN family of networks, coach Dave Rose said that the intensity of competing for a conference title was very similar to what his team faced in the MWC.

"We're 6-2 on the road (in conference play)," Rose said. "Trying to win a regular-season conference championship is a really difficult task. You have to be consistent for 2½ months. That feeling is every bit as challenging as the feeling we had in the Mountain West Conference."

Rose added that his squad, which lost star guards Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery and had reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season, had to deal with moving into a new, unfamiliar conference.

"It's been a challenge," Rose said. "I'm really proud of these guys, when you think of the challenge that was put before them as far as following an unbelievable season, an unbelievable team, losing a lot of players, coming back with that kind of pressure on them and then being put in a situation where they have no idea what the league is going to be like … Our seniors, I thought, did a great job of leading us through territory they'd never been in before."

Senior Charles Abouo enjoyed BYU's inaugural regular season in the WCC.

"It's been a lot of fun. It's been a great experience for me as a senior going into a new challenge," he said. "This conference is a little different because every team is a very different. You get different looks. It's been really fun to go to different venues and play different teams and get a different challenge from what you're used to. So it's been good."

The Cougars were picked to finish third in the WCC in the preseason poll, and that's where they finished.

"We weren't picked to win the league and that was one of our goals, to do it," Abouo said. "We didn't do it. We finished third ... (Opposing) teams might be sleeping on us a little bit. But we're excited to have a chance to make things right in the West Coast Conference Tournament. We want to go there and win that one so we can go to (the NCAA Tournament)."

WCC TOURNAMENT HISTORY: BYU is the No. 3 seed in the WCC Tournament, which tips off today. The Cougars play on Friday night (9 p.m. MST, ESPNU) against either No. 6 San Diego or No. 7 Pepperdine.

Over the last nine years, the No. 3 seed is 9-0 in its quarterfinal games, but only 1-8 in the semifinals against the No. 2 seed. This year's No. 2 seed is Gonzaga.

During that span, the No. 3 seed has won the tournament title just once — in 2008, when San Diego captured the crown. That year, the tournament was hosted by the Toreros.

The top seed in the WCC Tournament has won just one of the last four tournament championships.

ROSE IN FINAL FOUR: Rose has advanced to the final round of the Infiniti Coaches' Charity Challenge, closing in on receiving $100,000 for Rose's Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation.

The other coaches competing for the $100,000 prize are West Virginia's Bob Huggins, Missouri's Frank Haith and Ohio State's Thad Matta. Fans can vote every day from now until March 8 at promo.espn.go.com/espn/contests/infiniti/2012/.

GOING FOR NO. 25: BYU is one of four teams in the country that are aiming for a sixth consecutive 25-win season. Kansas (25-5) reached that milestone Monday night. The Cougars (24-7) are one victory away from that plateau. The others are Butler (18-13) and Pittsburgh (15-14).

CUSICK HONORED: Junior guard Craig Cusick was named to the WCC's 10-player All-Academic team. Cusick has a 3.59 GPA in accounting. Saint Mary's guard Matthew Dellavedova was also named to the team.

email: jeffc@desnews.com

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