PROVO — The title defense begins for the Cougars.

BYU opens Mountain West Conference play today against Colorado State, a squad with a new coach, new players and something in common with the Cougars this past week.

The Cougars and Rams enter today's game coming off non-conference losses. BYU's came at the hands of Wake Forest in ACC territory on Tobacco Road. CSU's came at home against Oklahoma Panhandle State at home in overtime.

There certainly are degrees of ouches.

BYU (11-4) and CSU (6-9, 0-1) tipoff today at 4 p.m., in the Marriott Center. The game will be televised live

on The mtn.

Speaking of ouches, the Rams will be without the services of 7-foot center Stuart Creason, CSU's most experienced player. Creason, who has two sets of steel pins in both feet, has been nursing stress fractures and will not return until the pain level goes down.

"He is out indefinitely," said CSU's first-year coach, Tim Miles. "It's a pain tolerance issue with Stuart. It is highly doubtful he will participate in any shape or form this week. We'll take a look at it on Monday and see where he's at and talk to the trainer."

Creason's absence leaves the Rams with a roster of players who lack four-year experience and have not played on the Marriott Center floor. "Every player is either a true freshman or a junior college transfer," said Miles.

"What we're trying to do is establish our own tradition," said Miles.

CSU is led in scoring by Marcus Walker, who is averaging 16.3 points per game and has averaged 17.4 per game over the last five contests. Right behind Walker is Willis Gardner, who averages 12.9 points per game with 22 shots from beyond the arc. Freshman Andre McFarland has the best 3-point percentage on the team at 59.3 percent. Ronnie Aguilar has stepped up with the absence of Creason and had his first career double-double (18 rebounds —12 points) against Oklahoma Panhandle State.

The Cougars enter tonight's game knowing they have to ratchet up their execution, particularly in shooting accuracy, after failing to shoot above 50 percent in their last three games.

"Conference play is completely different," said junior center Trent Plaisted. Today's game propels the Cougars into next week and at the site of the MWC tournament, where they lost to UNLV last March.

Today the Cougars are out to protect their home court win streak, now at 39, second in the nation behind Memphis.

"CSU is a very good, athletic team," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "They're really good at dribble penetration and rebounding the ball. They've played some good games at a very high level in nonconference play, but they've just had some issues with consistency."

The Cougars could start forward Jonathan Tavernari for the second game in a row today. At Wake Forest, Tavernari started in place of freshman Chris Collinsworth, who had moved into the starting lineup the past five games.