PROVO — It's still relatively early in the season, but BYU has little margin for error if it wants to contend for the West Coast Conference championship and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Cougars (14-5, 4-1), who are coming off a heartbreaking one-point loss to Saint Mary's last Wednesday, host surging San Diego on Saturday (7 p.m., MT, BYUtv).
The Toreros (11-8, 4-0) are riding a five-game winning streak and find themselves tied with No. 8 Gonzaga for first place in the WCC standings.
Certainly, the Cougars can't afford another loss — especially at home. Things get even more difficult next week, as BYU visits Gonzaga on Thursday.
Of course, there are still plenty of games left for the Cougars to bolster their tournament resume. BYU, which has made six straight NCAA tournament appearances, will have another shot at Saint Mary's, on the road, Feb. 21, while the 'Zags come to Provo on Feb. 28.
But coach Dave Rose isn't concerned about February's schedule or bracketology. He's focused squarely on the immediate future.
"If you came and listened to what we talk about (as a team), you would never hear 'on the bubble,'" Rose said Friday. "We're addressing one thing — and that's 'let's prepare and try to win the next game.'"
But how will the Cougars respond Saturday after suffering that gut-wrenching defeat to Saint Mary's? Guard Matthew Dellavedova drilled a 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to carry the Gaels to a dramatic 70-69 triumph.
"Our guys were disappointed, but they should be," Rose said. "They played hard, they played well and we actually played well enough to win. We don't win, you've got a lot invested in this so you want to have it sting. By the end of practice (Thursday), they were looking forward to the next game. Hopefully, we can move forward. As disappointing as the last game was, you try to get that behind you as quick as possible. You realize the only way you can fix that is to win the next one. Hopefully, our guys are focused on that. When we left the gym (Thursday), the guys were in pretty good spirits and hopefully we play well."
San Diego, which was picked in the preseason WCC poll to finish fifth, has beaten Portland, San Francisco, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount en route to its perfect start in league play.
The Toreros, who have been members of the WCC since 1979-80, have never started a conference season with a 5-0 record.
But they can achieve that against BYU.
“Man, I’m so excited. I'm speechless,” San Diego guard Chris Anderson told the San Diego Union-Tribune about playing in Provo. “All the guys are excited. Everyone’s underestimated us, said we’ve got a soft schedule. But we come out ready to ball. That’s what we do.”
Torero coach Bill Grier has his team competing at a high level.
"He's got them playing the very best that they've played all year long," Rose said. "It's a unique challenge when you face a team that's on a nice little roll They've won their last two league road games, so it's a team with a lot of confidence."
The last time BYU and San Diego met, it was in the quarterfinals of the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas last March. Former Cougar forward Noah Hartsock, playing on a gimpy knee, came off the bench to score 19 points, including 15 in the second half, to lead BYU to a hard-fought 73-68 win.
San Diego is led by its talented pair of guards, Johnny Dee (15 ppg) and Anderson (9.4 ppg).
"Anderson is a guy who can get anywhere he wants to on the floor," Rose said. "We're going to have to corral that and contain that. Dee is a guy that can make every shot."
San Diego (11-8, 4-0) at BYU (14-5, 4-1)
7 p.m. MT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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