SALT LAKE CITY — Although BYU is less than one week away from opening West Coast Conference play, the Cougars' full attention is squarely on Virginia Tech.
BYU takes on the Hokies Saturday (noon MST, ESPNU) at EnergySolutions Arena in the Cougars' final non-conference game before tipping off WCC action at home next Thursday against Loyola Marymount.
When asked about the start of the WCC season, after BYU's 84-54 win over Northern Arizona on Thursday night, forward Brandon Davies made it clear there's some unfinished business to take care of — against a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We always get pumped for conference (play). But, I apologize, but that's too far ahead to look for us," said Davies, who scored a game-high 27 points and pulled down 10 rebounds against the Lumberjacks. "Virginia Tech is a solid team. We beat them in their place (last season). They're practicing (Thursday night) at ESA, getting ready for us. It's going to be a battle. All our efforts right now are into that game. Then we can worry about getting fired up for conference play."
Virginia Tech (9-3) is coming off a humbling 88-52 loss to Colorado State in the championship game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic last Sunday in the Orleans Arena.
The Rams opened the second half with a 21-4 run to bury the Hokies.
Virginia Tech boasts the nation's leading scorer, senior guard Erick Green, who averages 25.4 points per game. After scoring 26 points against CSU, Green tied the school record for most consecutive games with scoring at least 20 points, a 12-game streak.
The shorthanded Hokies will be playing their third consecutive game with just seven scholarship players. The latest casualty was backup forward Marshall Wood, who is out with a broken foot.
"Our lack of depth is a concern," first-year Hokie coach James Johnson told the Roanoke Times. "We're hoping that we'll have some legs, but you never can tell. These West Coast trips are long, and we're short on bodies. Even with practice, every guy's got to go just about every rep."
Offensively, Virginia Tech has been struggling lately, shooting only 29 percent from 3-point territory in its last five games. Guard Robert Brown has shot only 13.3 percent from the floor in the past four games.
“He’s taking the same shots that he was hitting early on in the year,” Johnson said of Brown. “I don’t know whether fatigue’s setting in on his legs.”
Defensively, the Hokies have allowed at least 10 3-pointers in each of their three losses this season.
Meanwhile, BYU coach Dave Rose believes his team is making strides.
"I think we've really improved in the last two weeks. I think our team has gotten a lot better," Rose said. "You saw some of that (Thursday night), especially in the first half. Guys hit big shots. Hopefully that's a good sign."
The Cougars (9-4) have won six games in a row at EnergySolutions Arena, including an 85-60 triumph over Montana on Nov. 28. BYU has posted an all-time 8-2 regular-season record on the homecourt of the Utah Jazz.
Last January, the Cougars defeated the Hokies in Blacksburg, Va., 70-68, after Brock Zylstra drilled a 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining at Cassell Coliseum.
Former BYU forward Noah Hartsock blocked the potential game-tying layup by Green with three seconds left. Brown missed the potential game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.
Cougars and Hokies on the air
Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. BYU (9-4)
Saturday, noon, MT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company