We’re still young and learning a lot and still learning to play together. But we’re in a good place right now … I think we can make a run. —Chase Fischer
Loyola Marymount (10-10, 3-6) at BYU (14-7, 5-3)
Thursday, 9 p.m. MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
PROVO — In the previous two seasons, BYU reached the midway point of West Coast Conference play with a mediocre 5-4 record.
Both times, the Cougars responded by going 8-1 in the back half of WCC play.
One game shy of the midway point this season, the Cougars own a 5-3 mark and sit in fourth place in the conference standings as they host Loyola Marymount Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPNU).
BYU has played every WCC opponent except for San Diego — and the Cougars won’t meet the Toreros for the first time until Feb. 18.
While this marks just BYU’s third home game since late December, seven of its last 10 will be played at the friendly confines of the Marriott Center.
Bottom line, the Cougars are looking to finish the second half of the WCC schedule strong again.
“Last year we were in a similar stretch with a similar record and we reeled off (six) straight (wins) and beat Gonzaga to go into the (NCAA) Tournament and had a good run,” said guard Chase Fischer. “It’s kind of make or break right now. But it’s going to be a good last-third of the season because our team’s very together. We’re still young and learning a lot and still learning to play together. But we’re in a good place right now I think we can make a run.”
BYU is facing the same two teams this weekend it played on the road last week — LMU and Pepperdine. The Cougars split the road trip, beating the Lions 91-80 after overcoming a 15-point first-half deficit, then falling to the Waves, 71-65.
There are positives and negatives about this scheduling quirk.
“The biggest pro for us is that we didn’t have to get on an airplane. We were able to practice here. We get a chance to play at home,” said coach Dave Rose. “That’s big for us. Our guys are pretty motivated. We’ve had some good practices and they’re really familiar with our opponent. Obviously, they know we have a real challenge because that first half, they outplayed us. We were fortunate in the second half that we played probably about as good of a half we’ve played this year to be able to win the game. That’s fresh on their minds.
“Some of the cons of it are, there will be some real adjustments made on both sides that are fresh in the coaches’ minds that will probably give an advantage to one team or another,” Rose added. “We’ll see how that works out. When you play a team three or four weeks later, you’ll take the scouting report and adjust it. When it’s this quick, we’re really familiar and there’s still adjustments to be made and hopefully our guys understand that.”
When it comes to playing teams for the second time in conference play, “it’s amazing in this league how many adjustments are made game to game,” Rose said. “It’s important to be able for the guys to understand it’s going to be a different game even though it’s the same team you’re playing in the second half.”
How have the Cougars responded to last Saturday’s setback at Pepperdine?
“Morale’s been good. Obviously we’re disappointed that we lost,” Fischer said. “We had to go back and correct some things, but overall the morale’s been good. There’s nothing we can do about it. But we have a great opportunity this weekend to play the same two teams and avenge that loss. But Loyola’s first. That’s what’s on our mind right now. Everybody’s being really positive.”
LMU hit 17 of its first 21 shots last week against BYU and seized a 15-point lead in the first half before the Cougars mounted a rally.
The reigning WCC player of the week, Adom Jacko, hit 11 of 12 shots against BYU and finished with a game-high 26 points and also grabbed 12 rebounds.
“He’s impressive,” Emery said of Jacko. “He’s definitely one of the most athletic guys in this conference and he had a heck of a night against us.”
The Cougars are looking forward to the challenge this weekend presents.
“It’s always hard playing a team the second time because they know exactly what you do,” Emery said. “Loyola’s a great team and Pepperdine’s a great team. It’s going to be a battle this weekend. We’ve adjusted to some things and I’m sure they’ve adjusted to some things, too. They’re both great teams.”