HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — On the day after Thanksgiving, BYU polished off its appetizer in the Chicago Invitational Challenge with a 76-55 victory over Nevada Friday night in front of a sparse crowd at the Sears Centre.
The main course comes Saturday (6 p.m., MT) when the Cougars take on No. 11 Wisconsin for the tournament championship. Will it be feast or famine for BYU?
The Badgers (5-0) dispatched Bradley, 66-43, in the nightcap, holding the Braves to 34 percent shooting.
"Wisconsin is a whole different animal from what we just played, as far as, they're really physical," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "They really screen, they really run their stuff and they're really patient. Defensively, it will be as physical a team as we've seen in a long time."
The Cougars (4-1) are looking forward to the chance to play a high-profile contest like this one — which will be televised by the Big Ten Network — early in the year.
"I think that's a great advantage we can have," said forward Noah Hartsock, who scored 21 points against Nevada. "We want that opportunity to play the best teams in the nation, to help our (national) profile and help show that we can play at that level like we have the past couple of years. We're going to go in with the mindset that we can win because that's what we expect every game."
Wisconsin, which had three players score 15 points against Bradley, was well-represented in the stands Friday — Madison is just a three-hour drive from the Chicago area — so it could feel like a road game for BYU.
Badger coach Bo Ryan said he didn't watch the Cougars play Friday, but added, "I have a lot of respect for Dave and his program."
The Cougars controlled most of the game against Nevada, jumping out to an early 24-6 advantage. The Wolfpack whittled the deficit to seven at halftime, and was as close as five in the second half, by employing a zone defense and a halfcourt trap.
"The momentum kind of shifted and they got us back on our heels a little bit," said Charles Abouo, who poured in a game-high 22 points. "But coach told us to keep being aggressive and to attack the press. We ended up getting things going a little bit better."
BYU made Nevada pay with stellar outside shooting. BYU shot 54 percent from the floor, led by Hartsock (9-of-12) and Abouo (8-of-12).
"Our coaches called some great plays. They were able to dissect the different defenses they were in," Abouo said. "Noah, being able to hit that high-post shot consistently, and Brandon (Davies) being a force down low, it really opened up a lot of things for us guards."
Redshirt freshman Anson Winder made his first career start Friday and played well running the offense.
"Anson did a great job pushing the ball," Abouo added. "With those two big guys demanding a lot of attention, it left us open out there."
Abouo hit 4-of-5 3-pointers, including all four attempts from long range in the final 13 minutes of the game. The Cougars led by as many as 24 points in the second half.
"In the second half, Charles was just terrific," Rose said. "He got into space, we got him the ball and he converted on a bunch of shots. He was wide open, exactly how we work on it."
"That's been a big focus for us, to get open shots," Hartsock said. "One of our main strategies is to get the ball inside, then work it outside. That's how we've been able to get a lot of shots. Charles hit some big threes for us. And Anson was playing really well and that helped us out."
BYU knocked down 8-of-18 shots from 3-point territory, including six in the second half.
"We've made a real effort on shooting two types of threes. We were shooting five types of threes earlier in the year," Rose said. "We're going to shoot them from the inside-out. If a post guy's got an offensive rebound, he can kick it out. Or on the break, if we race it up, and we have space, we're going to shoot that. We've eliminated the ones that we didn't feel real comfortable with. It needs to expand, obviously, as the season goes on. But right now, we're just taking good shots."
One of the keys for BYU in the second half was rebounding. The Cougars allowed the Wolfpack to grab seven offensive boards in the first half, which led to easy baskets.
"When they made their run on us in the first half, most of it was because of offensive rebounds," Rose said. "We had a hard time keeping them off the glass. They had seven in the first half that led to a few baskets. We needed to shore that up in the second half. They only got three offensive rebounds in the second half."
The win set up BYU's first matchup with Wisconsin since 1931, a game won by the Badgers.
Still, their paths have crossed since then. BYU and Wisconsin played at the same NCAA Tournament site in New Orleans last March.
"It will be really good for us. They're a really good team. They're tough. But we're up for the challenge," Abouo said of the meeting with the Badgers. "We watched them play (in New Orleans). I actually lived in Wisconsin for a while, so I've always followed Wisconsin. They have a really good coach and a good program. It will be fun to play them."
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