STOCKTON, Calif. — During BYU basketball coach Dave Rose’s nine seasons at the helm, the Cougars have proved they know how to win games in the crucial month of February.
Over Rose’s first seven years, BYU posted a 42-7 record in that month. However, last February, the Cougars uncharacteristically stumbled with a 3-4 mark.
In the end, BYU saw its streak of six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances end.
Even though BYU advanced to the National Invitation Tournament Final Four at Madison Square Garden in New York City a year ago, the Cougars want to get back to the NCAA tournament.
But right now, BYU (17-9, 9-4) sits squarely on the bubble, according to the latest bracketology projections.
To return to the NCAAs, the Cougars need to finish February with a flourish.
So far, BYU is 3-0 this month, but it will be tested this weekend on the road, beginning with a showdown Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ROOT) at Pacific. On Saturday, the Cougars visit Saint Mary’s, a place BYU has never won.
At this point, every game has major implications.
Rose doesn’t need to say much to his players about what is at stake as the Cougars enter the homestretch of the regular season.
“I think you can feel it from the guys. They realize they’re in a position where the games are really important and they mean a lot,” Rose said. “I think our sport is unique in that there’s always another chance with a tournament in the end. But I do believe that our guys know the standings and the weight of every game. The best part is, when you do win, it makes that next game even more important. That’s a great way to get through February and March.”
For BYU, which finds itself in second place in the West Coast Conference standings, there’s little margin for error, which is why this weekend’s road swing is so important.
“It’s a huge road trip for us,” sophomore guard Kyle Collinsworth said. “It’s a huge game for us because we’ve got to prove that we can start winning on the road. Thursday is the first step to that. We’re really focused on Thursday’s game. We’ve got to win Thursday, then we’ll worry about Saturday.”
In this week’s ESPN.com projections by bracketology expert Joe Lunardi, the Cougars are listed among “the last four in” the tournament.
Do BYU players pay attention to the postseason prognostications?
“Not really. Obviously, we just want to win games,” said guard Tyler Haws. “You can’t worry about too much of that stuff right now. Maybe in a few weeks. We’ve just got to focus on our next game.”
Collinsworth said he doesn’t need to look at the projections because “people that surround me tell me all that. I don’t look at that stuff. If we win, we’ll be there.”
Rose said it doesn’t make sense to get caught up in bracketology at this point of the season.
“What guys understand is, that’s so temporary. There is so much to do,” he explained. “If the tournament were on Saturday, it would be nice. Every player and coach kind of deals with it in their own way. From my point of view, and they hear my point of view quite a bit, it’s so temporary. Things can change so quick, no matter what side of the coin you’re on. You try to finish the best you can. Hopefully we’ve instilled a few things in the guys and one of them the importance of the next game we play.”
After playing at Pacific and Saint Mary’s, BYU hosts Gonzaga and Portland before ending the regular season at San Diego.
The WCC tournament in Las Vegas tips off March 6.
The Cougar coaching staff has made practices shorter in recent days to ensure that the players stay healthy and don’t get too worn down.
Haws said that’s vital when it comes to closing out the season strong.
“Just continuing to get better every day in practice, then taking care of your body,” Haws said. “This time of year your body starts to break down. It’s important to get the right amount of sleep and eat right. The coaches have talked a lot to us about that.”
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