MALIBU, Calif. — Considering all of the snow that's fallen recently in Utah, this picturesque town featuring balmy climes and gorgeous beaches is a pleasant place to be for the BYU basketball team.
"It's going to be nice to see some sand for a change," said Cougar forward Brandon Davies.
Still, for BYU, the matchup with Pepperdine on Thursday (8 p.m. MST, ROOT) isn't just an excuse to get out of the cold, snowy weather.
It's another important business trip.
The Cougars (16-6, 6-2) can't afford another loss before they face West Coast Conference leaders Saint Mary's and Gonzaga at the end of February if they are to have any shot at competing for a WCC championship and positioning themselves for the NCAA tournament. Then, BYU needs to knock off the Gaels and the Zags.
"We do take it one game at a time, but at the same time, we know we're kind of up against the wall, almost," Davies said. "We've got to win every game we play from here on out. That's our mindset, but we take one game at a time."
Asked to clarify his statement about being "against the wall," Davies continued: "All of our team goals — winning the conference and getting to the (NCAA) tournament — all those things that we have as team goals, at this point things aren't really going as we wished they would have. But that's life. That's basketball. Now we've got to put forth even greater effort to get to where we need to be."
For now, BYU's chances at a seventh straight NCAA tournament berth are tenuous.
"At some point, the vacant nature of the Cougars' profile will become too much to overcome," SI.com's Andy Glockner wrote this week. "That point is drawing very close after they were peppered at Gonzaga last week. That drops BYU to 0-6 vs. the RPI top 75. I don't really see how this is a viable at-large profile, even with credible computer numbers. If they don't beat Gonzaga and win at Saint Mary's in the regular season, it's probably auto bid or bust."
This week, ESPN's Joe Lunardi has both BYU and Saint Mary's listed as the "First Four Out" of this year's tournament.
The good news for the Cougars is they have been strong in February under coach Dave Rose. BYU has posted a 42-7 record in the month of February, dating back to 2006.
What is it about Rose's teams at this time of year?
"Coach Rose is unbelievable," said assistant coach Terry Nashif. "This is a good time for him, as he gets his teams right where he wants them to be, and gets the players in the right spots and understands the importance of the next game is the most important, and not looking ahead and not looking behind. He's an unbelievable motivator and unbelievably consistent."
BYU is starting the second half of the WCC schedule against Pepperdine (10-10, 2-5), having played each league opponent once.
How does Davies assess his performance — and his team's — through the first half of the conference season?
"We need to do a lot better. That's me personally and individually," he said. "As I continue to get better, that's only going to help the team."
Thursday is also BYU's third consecutive road game after splitting a trip at Gonzaga and Portland last weekend.
"We like playing on the road. They are the toughest wins to get," Davies said. "When you can go into anyone's place and get a win, it's a big one in this conference."
When BYU played Pepperdine at home Jan. 10, the Cougars trailed at halftime, 35-30, as guard Jordan Baker scored 20 first-half points. In the second half, BYU outscored the Waves, 46-16. Davies, Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino each scored in double figures in that contest, and the Cougars held Baker scoreless in the second half.
"Offensively," Nashif said, "we need to play better than we did last time in the first half."
Cougars on the air:
BYU (16-6, 6-2) at Pepperdine (10-10, 2-5)
Firestone Fieldhouse, Malibu, Calif.
8 p.m. MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @AJeffreyCall