PROVO — After suffering two consecutive home losses for the first time since the 2004-05 season, including last Saturday's humbling setback to nationally ranked Saint Mary's, the BYU basketball team is working hard this week to turn things around.
And the Cougars have a heightened sense of urgency because they host another ranked team, No. 24 Gonzaga, on Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2).
Senior forward Noah Hartsock said his team is "disappointed" with the way it played last Saturday.
"We addressed those problems," he said. "We're getting back to the basics. We're focused on really competing and playing harder than the other team … If we can continue to get better, we can do really good down the stretch of conference play and then in the West Coast Conference Tournament."
BYU (18-6 overall, 6-3 in WCC play) fell further behind league-leader Saint Mary's and it needs to win Thursday to stay close to Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1).
"There were a lot of plays we should have made (against Saint Mary's)," said senior Charles Abouo. "They outhustled us to a lot of important loose balls. We've got to have a sustained effort for 40 minutes. We need to cut down on the mistakes we made defensively. As players, we've got to take more accountability for that."
Coach Dave Rose likes his players' attitude despite their recent woes.
"Our practices have been good. They've been good mostly all year. That's not the problem," he said. "We're playing really hard and our guys are positive. They're obviously a little disappointed in the outcome of Saturday's game. But I know that they're working hard. That's a good sign."
Among the Cougars' issues is 3-point shooting. BYU has hit just 11 of its last 73 attempts from behind the arc.
"All of us are really good shooters," said freshman point guard Matt Carlino. "You just have to keep shooting, maybe not shooting as many, ease back into it. We have to take it inside and shoot more 2s."
Carlino said that his team knows there's time to bounce back.
"There's still a lot of basketball left and we're trying to keep on improving," he said, adding that the key is "to compete, play hard and keep improving. We haven't just abandoned ship."
LATE NIGHT: BYU and Gonzaga will tip off at 9 p.m. to accommodate ESPN2.
Hartsock actually prefers later games. "We're college students and we're staying up anyway," he said. "Might as well play at that time."
"It doesn't really matter what time we play," said forward Brandon Davies. "We're all going to be anxious to get out there and play."
What kind of atmosphere do the Cougars expect on Thursday?
"I expect a great atmosphere," Hartsock said. "I see the tents outside already lined up (around the Marriott Center). That's just great about BYU fans. They're always coming to games and always supportive."
"I think (the Marriott Center is) going to be packed. I think our fans feel the same way we do," Abouo said. "We've got to get back on track. We have some great fans and I know they're eager to see us play like we usually play at home. It's a tough environment for teams to win and unfortunately we haven't done a good job of winning at home this year. We can change that this Thursday."
HOLMOE'S REACTION: BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe issued a statement this week, in response to media inquiries, regarding the behavior of some fans during the loss to Saint Mary's. Debris, mostly paper and rally towels, were thrown onto the court, resulting in a technical foul early in the second half.
"I love the passion and enthusiasm of our student section and appreciate the support our team receives from fans in the Marriott Center," Holmoe said. "I know Cougar fans were frustrated Saturday night, be we simply cannot engage in poor sportsmanship. Our goal should be for visiting teams and officials to leave BYU having been treated with respect.
"I greatly appreciate the majority of our fans who show good sportsmanship at each and every home game. This Thursday, against a great team from Gonzaga, I fully expect all our fans to show the same passionate yet respectful support that has made the Marriott Center such a storied place to play over the years."
INJURY UPDATE: Forward Stephen Rogers (knee) practiced hard Monday. However, he felt stiffness in the knee afterwards and did not practice Tuesday.
Cougars on the air
No. 24 Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1 WCC) at BYU (18-6, 6-3)
Thursday, 9 p.m. MT
Marriott Center, Provo
TV: ESPN2 Radio: 1160 AM
email: [email protected]