Matt Gade, Deseret News
For the BYU basketball team, the grueling gauntlet through the top 25 continues.
The Cougars (8-4) will face their fourth ranked team in the preseason Saturday when they visit No. 13 Oregon (8:30 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network).
This challenge against the undefeated Ducks (10-0) comes one week after a humbling 81-64 loss at arch-rival Utah one week ago.
Saturday, it’s another tough road game against another Pac-12 opponent.
“The disappointing part is we’ve had opportunities out there and we haven’t capitalized on all of them,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “We have another one on Saturday. We look forward to it.”
This may end up being the BYU basketball program’s toughest non-conference schedule ever. The Cougars (8-4) will have played four ranked teams — including No. 17 Iowa State (8-0), No. 11 Wichita State (11-0), No. 22 UMass (10-0) — that boast a combined record of 39-0 going into Saturday’s game in Eugene, Ore.
The combined record of the four opponents that BYU has lost to, including Utah, is 49-1.
But Rose has no misgivings about putting together such a tough schedule for his team.
“No regrets. We’ve had so many opportunities to play good teams,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot from the games. I would like to put together a schedule like this every year — but maybe not so one-sided with road games. But it’s difficult. Where we stand, and what we’re trying to accomplish, it’s difficult.”
Guard Kyle Collinsworth prefers games against elite programs rather than games against patsies.
“I’d rather play ranked teams because it’s going to help us in March and April,” he said. “Those are the teams you are going to play. Those ranked teams are going to be where we want to be. It’s good for us. We wouldn’t want it any other way.”
But have double-digit losses to Wichita State, UMass and Utah damaged the Cougars’ confidence as they head into league play? BYU opens West Coast Conference play on Dec. 28 at Loyola Marymount.
“We’re still confident. We lost games that we could have won, but didn’t,” Collinsworth said.
Meanwhile, the Cougars have beaten some very good teams as well. Stanford is 8-2, Texas is 10-1 and Utah State was 7-2 going into the weekend.
“We’ve played good teams,” Rose said.
Now, BYU is looking to beat upper-echelon teams. After Oregon, the Cougars will be facing another ranked opponent in WCC play twice — No. 21 Gonzaga (10-1).
But what will it take in order to win games against ranked foes?
“To be able to beat those teams, we have to improve,” said forward Josh Sharp. “We need to come together, be more unselfish. Playing for each other is a big part of that.”
Oregon is the second-leading scoring team in the country, averaging 89.1 points per game. BYU is No. 8, averaging 88.6 points per game.
“We’re going to have to play defense to win that game, that’s for sure,” Collinsworth said. “If we don’t play ‘D,’ we don’t win that game. It’s a big emphasis.”
The Cougars will have to deal with speedy, 5-foot-8 guard Jonathan Lloyd, brother of former Cougar Michael Loyd Jr.
“He’s a handful. They’ve got quite a few guys that are a handful,” Rose said. “He’s fast with the ball. He can stop on a dime and elevate, and he’s got every shot then he runs that team really well. He’s one of those extra special guys.”
Oregon has four starters averaging double-figures, including Loyd (10.4) and guard Joseph Young (19.3 ppg).
Offensively, the Cougars were stagnant and inefficient against the Utes.
“We need to be more patient at times,” Rose said. “Especially when we get behind, we seem to really speed up and want to score four or five points on one possession and shoot really quick.”
Rose’s offensive philosophy is for his players to give up a good shot for a better shot. But the Cougars haven’t been doing that consistently this season.
“It seems like we’re just trying to find the first shot right now, at least the other night (against Utah),” Rose said. “We hope to be able to make some strides and be better at that.”
The Cougars know what they’re up against Saturday. After all, they’ve played against ranked teams before.
“They’re a really talented team, one of the most talented we’ve played,” Sharp said of Oregon. “We need to buckle down, for sure.”
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