OKLAHOMA CITY — Three of BYU's five losses this season were games the Cougars easily could have won.

In losing to New Mexico twice during the regular season and to UNLV in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament, the Cougars led in the final minutes of each of those games only to lose in the final seconds.

For the Cougars to advance in the NCAA Tournament, however, those are the kind of games they can't let slip away. Even though the Cougars are outscoring opponents by nearly 18 points per game, that's not likely to be the case from this point on.

"I don't think there are going to be many blowouts," BYU junior guard Jackson Emery said. "I think we're expecting a dogfight in each game right to the end."

For the Cougars to come out on the better end of those tight games, they need to execute better down the stretch.

"The bottom line is players need to make plays, if it's a defensive play, a loose ball, if it's a shot, an open shot they have, that's what needs to happen to finish off games and win, especially close games," BYU coach Dave Rose said.

What the Cougars hope to avoid is falling behind big early, playing catch up for a good portion of the game, and then after getting even or taking the lead, to let it slip away again — which is what they did in the two losses to New Mexico and the loss to UNLV.

"We've won some close games, so we know how to win," guard Jimmer Fredette said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to be confident down the stretch and make some big shots and big plays, and I think we're going to be able to do that."

The best scenario for BYU on Thursday is to get off to a fast start and get the Gators in a panic early, which is something they were able to do to many opponents this season.

"You expect such a tremendous effort from whoever you play in this tournament, so a lot of the games are going to be close," senior center Chris Miles said. "Hopefully, we can just get off to a great offensive start, play really good defense, get up and down the floor and try to get some spacing."

NAMING THE STARTERS: With freshman BrandonDavies making his first career start against UNLV last week, and with some uncertainty on the condition of fellow freshman TylerHaws, who has started 31 games this year, Rose said on Monday that he's not sure what his starting five will be on Thursday.

Prior to Davies' start last week, ChrisMiles was BYU's starting center. But Davies has been more effective of late offensively, so he could get the start again.

If Rose feels Haws' swollen left eye is not open enough or healthy enough for him to get the start, he will either go with the quicker Michael Loyd Jr. or the bigger Charles Abouo. The start might to go Abouo simply because of his size, which gives the Cougars a better matchup defensively against Alex Tyus, the Gators' 6-foot-8 starting small forward.

EARLY WAKE-UP CALL: If the Cougars fail to start quickly on Thursday, some might blame the 10:20 a.m. Mountain Time tip-off, which is more like a noon game to Florida because the Gators are coming from the Eastern Time zone. The Cougars, however, don't feel the early start will be a factor either way.

"Both teams deal with the time issue. We've played early games before, and we're excited to play another one," Rose said.

CLASHING STREAKS: If the Cougars can send the Gators home on Thursday, it will end one burdensome streak and also end a historic streak. Florida, in winning back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007, has won 12 straight NCAA Tournament games. The Gators did not reach the NCAA Tournament the past two years. The Cougars have lost eight straight tournament games and seven straight first-round games.

e-mail: jimr@desnews.com