PROVO Tonight's men's basketball game has a distinct Cougar feel, and it's not simply because the contest will take place at Brigham Young's Marriott Center.
Not only does the matchup between No. 21 BYU (9-2) and Southern Utah University (2-9) at 6:30 p.m. mark the return of former Cougar head coach Roger Reid, but two-thirds of the rest of the Thunderbirds' coaching staff features former BYU players. On the SUU sideline with Reid, serving as assistants, will be Cougar alumni Ron Carling and Austin Ainge, the latter of which just last year ran the point for BYU.
BYU is currently riding a 37-game home winning streak, the longest in the nation. But what is probably more important to the Cougars is building on momentum created by a 19-point win over Pepperdine and cleaning up some mistakes (29 turnovers against the Waves) before playing two of its next three games on the road.
"We try to have a mindset among the coaching staff and players of trying to get better. Obviously, we're trying to win, but what's really most important is to improve as a team," BYU coach Dave Rose said.
Even though the Cougars seem to have a distinct advantage against the Thunderbirds on paper, Rose said it wouldn't be wise to take SUU for granted.
"They (SUU) have four or five guys that have scored in double figures, so they are a pretty balanced team," Rose said.
The Thunderbirds are led by junior forward Geoff Payne out of Sandy, who tops the team in both scoring (21.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg). Nurudeen Adepoju, a senior forward from Lagos, Nigeria, is averaging nine points a game.
SUU will have to contend with BYU's force in the middle, 6-foot-11 Trent Plaisted, who is averaging 18 a game. Plaisted has scored in double figures in each of the Cougars' 11 games this season. Teammates Lee Cummard is averaging 15.5 points a game, while Jonathan Tavernari averages 14.1.
As far as the return of Reid to Provo is concerned, Rose said he hopes his team realizes how dangerous the SUU's coach's guidance can make the Thunderbirds.
"We haven't talked much about it with our team (the return of Reid)," Rose said. "But a lot of the guys on the team that have been following BYU basketball for so long know that he was such a pillar here for a long time."I think the thing that is most important is that they realize that he is a coach with excellent credentials."
E-mail: [email protected]