PROVO — Mired in a two-game losing streak, and coming off a midweek bye, the BYU basketball team has been preparing for the stretch run.
With just five regular-season games remaining, the Cougars return to the court Saturday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) when they host Portland.
"We still have a lot to play for," said guard Tyler Haws. "We're staying positive and looking forward to the next few weeks. It's about how you respond and how you bounce back. I'm confident our guys will respond the right way."
BYU players have enjoyed getting some much-needed rest this week, but at the same time, the intensity level has been ratched up a few notches in practices.
"I can't remember when we've lost a game then had a bye week. It's a little bit tougher," said guard Brock Zylstra. "But on Monday, after a tough loss, we were focused and ready to go. We were feeling disappointment — and it showed in practice. It's been really intense."
Coach Dave Rose said his team has "had really spirited practices. The guys have been really positive. That's probably the most important thing now, for our guys to continue to believe in our team and to believe in each other."
"We've fixed the things we've needed to fix," said forward Brandon Davies. "Now we just need to go out there and show it."
BYU suffered two setbacks last week — at San Diego, then at home last Saturday against San Francisco. In both games, the Cougars squandered leads. The Dons scored 60 points and knocked down nine 3-pointers in the second half as BYU fell, 99-87.
On Thursday, Portland (10-17, 3-9) defeated San Francisco on the road, 78-76. BYU defeated the Pilots in Portland, 85-67, on Jan. 26.
It appears the Cougars' best shot at going to the NCAA tournament for the seventh consecutive season will be winning the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas.
"It's getting close to the end (of the season), but at the same time, we still have a lot of games, a lot of really important games," said Davies. "We've got to keep everyone positive and keep everyone focused and keep everyone together. Teams have a tendency to kind of fall apart after a couple of losses. But with us, the more we fight, the more we come together, the better we're going to be."
What's been the focus this week?
"You look at the score of our last game — we gave up 99 points — that will tell you," Zylstra said. "They shot incredibly well in the second half, but that is unacceptable for us. Defense — that was our big focus this week."
"Our defense, obviously, has to get a lot better," said Haws. "We've got to want it more than the other team. We gave San Francisco a lot of easy, open looks. We've got to do better at that going forward."
Rose has evaluated every aspect of his team during the week, but he wouldn't say if there would be a lineup change Saturday. "The key for this team is to become more consistent," Rose said.
He is eager to see his players end the losing streak.
"Now we'll see how our guys respond," said Rose. "Sometimes adversity can really strengthen your team, if everybody approaches it right and has the right attitude. No one wants to accept a loss as something that just happens. You want to be able to learn from it and then respond to it. Hopefully that's what we can do here."
At halftime of Saturday's game, BYU will retire the jerseys of former Cougar stars Mel Hutchins (No. 14) and Roland Minson (No. 11).
Cougars on the air
Portland (10-17, 3-9)
at BYU (18-8, 8-4)
Saturday, 7 p.m. MST
TV: BYUtv Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM