PROVO — The BYU Cougars must deal with some tests in the classroom before facing a big test on the court this weekend.
The Cougars, who defeated Utah, 61-42, at the Huntsman Center last Saturday, are taking some time off this week for final exams before undefeated, No. 6 Baylor visits the Marriott Center on Saturday (noon, MT, BYUtv).
"That will be exciting. It will be exciting for our players," said coach Dave Rose of the showdown with the Bears. "Anytime you can get a team that's ranked in the top 25, let alone in the top 10, to come into your place to play, everyone gets excited — coaches, players and fans. (Baylor is) very good, very talented. But we look forward to the challenge. In the last two weeks, we've made some real progress. I think we're getting better. We'll see how we do."
Two weeks ago, BYU fell to then-No. 11 Wisconsin in the championship game of the Chicago Invitational Tournament. The Cougars get another crack against a nationally ranked opponent — this time at home
"The last ranked team, we didn't play that well against," Rose said. "Now we have another ranked team and hopefully we'll play better."
Forward Noah Hartsock, who scored a game-high 19 points against the Utes, said he and his teammates can't wait for the matchup with Baylor.
"You always think about that. It's on the back of our minds," he said. "We've got finals coming up, so we've got to worry about that. It's going to be a good game. (Baylor has) great talent. They're an athletic bunch. It's going to be a fun game in Provo … It's really big for us. The Wisconsin game got away from us at the end. I think it's a great chance for us to play a really good team in our environment to showcase how we've improved over the last couple of games. Hopefully we can have a good game against them."
"They're a really good team," said forward Charles Abouo. "We're going to be ready. Playing them at home is going to be fun. We're excited for that challenge."
As it turns out, Saturday's game coincides with the day that point guard Matt Carlino, who transferred to BYU from UCLA, becomes eligible. Carlino has been practicing with the Cougars the past year.
"We'll get him in there and let him play and see how he fits with our guys," Rose said. "It won't happen in one game and it won't happen in two games. This will be a process. I like our schedule right now. We have four games before we start league (play). They're all at home and they are tough games. But it will give us a chance to see where he's going to fit in the rotation."
Anson Winder and Craig Cusick have been manning the point guard position for the Cougars. Now Carlino will be part of the mix.
"It's obviously going to take minutes from one of us. But it's all about how we can mesh together and whatever works best," said Cusick, who scored 10 points and dished out six assists against Utah. "I'm really excited for Matt to come back and play because he's a great player. He's already been working in our system, so it's not going to be something crazy new to play with Matt. He's in there every day in practice."
BYU has made big strides since its season-opening loss at Utah State on Nov. 11.
"At the beginning of the year, a lot of people were trying to figure out their roles," Hartsock said. "These past few games and practices have really helped us understand what everybody's role is going to be. We get Matt Carlino in there. He's been practicing with us for a year, so we're excited for him to come in and play in that game (against Baylor)."
But first, Rose wants his players to focus on academics.
"We'll take a couple of days off for finals," he said. "Finals are the most important thing right now, then we'll be ready for Baylor."
Cougars on the air
Baylor (7-0) at BYU (8-2)
Marriott Center, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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