BYU opens its WAC basketball campaign today against San Diego State, a team that appears likely to live up to its predicted 8th-place league finish.
The game will be televised live by ESPN at 10 p.m. MST from the Sports Arena.The Cougars finished with a 6-7 non-league record, worst in the WAC. The Aztecs were only slightly better at 5-5, with wins against such teams as Midwestern State, Cal-Poly Pomona and Baylor.
San Diego State also played some legitimate powerhouses, getting blown out by North Carolina 99-63 and UCLA 94-74. BYU, meanwhile, played several highly regarded teams - St. John's, East Tennessee State and South Carolina - close before succumbing. The Cougars are coming off their biggest margin of defeat of the season, by 15 points to Rutgers in the consolation game of the Holiday Festival.
The intriguing matchup in this game will be 7-foot-1 Aztec center Marty Dow against 7-6 Cougar center Shawn Bradley. A senior, Dow is SDSU's leading scorer (18.7) and rebounder (9.4). Bradley is BYU's leading scorer and rebounder, at 17.4 and 8.9.
If Dow can't neutralize Bradley, SDSU Coach Jim Brandenburg has the height on his bench to send guys at Bradley in waves. It's a tactic that has worked well in past games, and Bradley's 64 percent free-throw shooting is less of a threat to teams than his 59 percent field-goal shooting.
SDSU's other top scoring threat is 6-2 senior guard Arthur Massey, who is averaging 16.4 points per game. Massey only shoots 46 percent from the field, however. No other Aztec has averaged more than seven points per game as Brandenburg has experimented with different lineups. Ten players have started this season; only two have started every game - Dow and 6-6 senior Vern Thompson.
Brandenburg is finding the going a lot tougher at San Diego State than it was in his previous job, at Wyoming. Brandenburg left the Cowboys after his Fennis Dembo-Eric Leckner team made such a big splash in the 1987 NCAA tournament. He had compiled a 176-97 record in nine years at Wyoming, but midway through his fourth season at SDSU his record is just 42-57.
BYU Coach Roger Reid, meanwhile, is trying to find some help for Bradley. Senior forward Steve Schreiner's scoring average has been dropping, and three-point shooting guard Mark Heslop has been slumping from the field. Guard Scott Moon has replaced Heslop in the starting lineup, and Jared Miller is sharing a lot of playing time with Schreiner.
The Cougars are still holding opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, but their average of 18 turnovers has allowed opponents 11 more shots per game.
BYU is also not a good free-throw shooting team, at 69 percent, but the Aztecs are worse, at 67 percent. The Cougars are the worst in the WAC in three-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot 41.1 percent, but San Diego State is not a spectacular three-point shooting team.
COUGAR NOTES: Bradley is the only freshman in the top 25 in the WAC in scoring and rebounding. He also leads the WAC (not to mention the NCAA) in blocked shots at 6.38 per game. New Mexico center Luc Longley is second at 3.67.