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Brad Rock: Cougars making a case for their own identity

Published: Saturday, Dec. 3 2011 9:07 p.m. MST

BYU's #34 Noah Hartsock, left, tries to get a shot off while being defended by Oregon's #5 Olu Ashaolu as BYU and Oregon play Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 at Energy Solutions arena in Salt lake City. BYU defeated Oregon 79-65. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's #34 Noah Hartsock, left, tries to get a shot off while being defended by Oregon's #5 Olu Ashaolu as BYU and Oregon play Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 at Energy Solutions arena in Salt lake City. BYU defeated Oregon 79-65. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The BYU basketball team was owning EnergySolutions Arena, its lead spiking to 21 in the second half. Stars? Not really, unless you counted the inauspicious guys in street clothes.

Oh, them? You mean Jimmer? Jackson?

Those guys are sooooo last March.

The new Cougars seem to have something happening, too. On Saturday, they rubbed out Pac-12 mid-leveler Oregon, 79-65, without Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, thank you very much.

As politicians and actors on the rebound like to say, "going forward," the Cougars are looking good.

"I talk to them," Emery said of his former teammates, "and I text them once in awhile. But for the most part, they're past that and moving on."

Saturday was a good indication this BYU team is as determined, if not as talented as last year's. It seemed unlikely the Cougars would make much noise after last spring, when they ended their season with an NCAA Tournament loss to Florida. That was it for Fredette, the NCAA Player of the Year, and Emery, the Mountain West's Defensive Player of the Year. Gone like a fleeting kiss.

BYU's Noah Hartsock celebrates a defensive play as the Cougars beat the Pac-12's Oregon, 79-65, on Saturday.       (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's Noah Hartsock celebrates a defensive play as the Cougars beat the Pac-12's Oregon, 79-65, on Saturday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

In their place is a team intending to establish its own name. Who better than a group whose best player so far is an appealing, aggressive big man named Noah (Hartsock)? No offense intended, but the Cougars would just as soon have a massive case of Jimmernesia. That could be difficult with him sitting, as he has all season, right behind the BYU bench. After the game, Fredette walked out, escorted by a security guard, saying he couldn't talk because the lockout hadn't officially ended.

But Emery had no such hesitation. He's now working at a private business, living the life of an ordinary citizen. Meanwhile, the Cougars figure they're regular folks, too. Call it Occupy Provo. When it involves basketball, they think everyone should share the wealth.

This BYU team, of course, is less star driven than last year's Cougars. Yet Hartsock can be a handful with his soft outside touch and an improving inside game. Moreover, he is blocking shots at a nice rate, fourth on BYU's all-time list. Saturday he logged 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Freshman Anson Winder got his fourth start of the year, contributing 10 points and six assists. Nate Austin, a freshman from Alpine, delivered an important six-rebound night.

Throw in returnees Brandon Davies, Charles Abouo and Brock Zylstra — none of whom had his best night against the Ducks — and you have the stirrings of a respectable team. That combination was more than enough to handle an Oregon team picked fifth in the Pac-12. Next week the Cougars expect to add UCLA transfer Matt Carlino.

Though the Cougars have talked all year about establishing identity, nothing appeared early against the Ducks. They were down 10-2 before lacing on their shoes. But a couple of timeouts later they were back in business, going inside or kicking out, as prescribed. Soon they had a 12-point lead.

Winder, who was a non-issue in the beginning of the season, played a whopping 37 minutes. Austin, covering for the injured Chris Collinsworth, made four of five first-half shots. Meanwhile, Noah made it rain. He missed his only trey, but still led both teams in scoring, rebounding and blocks.

By the early second half, it was over. The Cougar defense that accounted for 10 Oregon turnovers in the first half — 15 for the game — had prevailed. The Cougars were 5-2 and looking the best they have all season.

"To play a very good team, on a roll … and for us to able to compete with them and then be able to break them and beat them is good for our confidence," coach Dave Rose said.

Added Hartsock: "It's good to see we can win games without (Fredette)."

Quietly, approvingly, Fredette and Emery smiled, yesterday's news already.

email: rock@desnews.com Twitter: therockmonster Facebook: rockmonsterunplugged

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