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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
BYU forward Yoeli Childs drives on Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams as BYU and Gonzaga play at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

STANFORD, Calif. — BYU forward Yoeli Childs has high hopes for what his team can gain from playing in the National Invitation Tournament.

“It’s an opportunity to improve. We’re very lucky to have another game," Childs said. "This group of guys is really excited to go out and play together one last time and try to make a run in this thing. It’s all about getting better and maximizing your potential.”

Ravell Call, Deseret News
BYU guard Elijah Bryant looks to shoot during game against San Diego at the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 3, 2018.

The No. 6-seeded Cougars open NIT play at No. 3 Stanford Wednesday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPNU) at Maples Pavilion.

“Everybody wants us to be in the NCAA Tournament. We want to be in that tournament, too,” Childs said. “But being mad about it or wishing something else happened isn’t going to do anything for you. I think everybody is just focused, locked in and excited to play another game together.”

The winner of the BYU-Stanford contest will meet the winner of No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 7 Florida Gulf Coast in the second round this weekend.

This marks BYU’s third consecutive NIT appearance. The Cougars suffered a first-round loss at home to UT Arlington a year ago. Under coach Dave Rose, BYU has played in the NIT five times.

“When I think of the five tournaments we’ve been in,” Rose said, “I think it’s the best field.”

Stanford, which finished in a third-place tie in the Pac-12 standings, has balanced scoring and is led by forward Reid Travis, who averages 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

“He’s definitely a big focal point of their offense,” said Childs, who averages 18 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. “It will be fun, especially when you’re done with conference play and you’ve been playing the same guys for so long. I’m definitely looking forward to playing someone that has a high-level talent.”

Three other Cardinal players — Dorian Pickens, Daejon Davis and Kezie Okpala — also average double figures.

“This is a very physical, talented (team). It’s a young Stanford team but they have a solid core,” Rose said. “This will be a real challenge for us — their size, their strength and how they play. They play fast and they don’t shoot a lot of threes. It’s a powerful type of team. We’re going to have to combat that. Our guys will lay it out there, I’m sure of that.”

“In any tournament, the first game is always a tough game to win,” said guard TJ Haws. “We know Stanford’s a great team. We watched a lot of film on them (Monday) so we know it’s going to be a battle. It’s college basketball and hopefully we’ll play in a fun environment. It’s going to be a lot of fun and hopefully we can come out tough from the start and get a win.”

Twice since 2013, BYU has advanced to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“The key is winning your first game. Then you find out where your team really is,” Rose said. “The two years we won our first game, we rode it all the way to New York. That first game can flip the switch for your guys.”

Unlike those two NIT semifinal seasons, the Cougars are opening the tournament on the road.

But Rose is happy with going to northern California, a place his team visits on a regular basis in the West Coast Conference.

“I like the draw because of the travel. It’s familiar,” he said. “We travel to the Bay Area quite a bit. It’s a Wednesday game and it gives us an extra day to practice.”

Ravell Call, Deseret News
BYU coach Dave Rose walks the sideline during West Coast Conference tourney game against the San Diego Toreros in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 3, 2018.

BYU hasn’t played since getting thumped in the WCC Tournament championship game by Gonzaga. Before that, the Cougars defeated Saint Mary’s in the tournament semifinals.

The NIT features some experimental rule changes — a longer 3-point line; a widened free-throw lane; games divided into quarters; and the shot clock reset to 20 seconds instead of 30 seconds after an offensive rebound.

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“I like the quarter system, fouls being reset. The widening of the lane, you might actually see that in our game to give more space,” Rose said. “That can actually help us. I would like to see the 3-point line consistent with all the levels (of basketball).”

During Monday’s practice, the coaching staff used adhesive tape to simulate the extended 3-point line.

“It was fun to try it out in practice,” Haws said. “There are a lot of new rules for this tournament. I think it’s going to be a good challenge for us to adapt to those.”

• • •

Cougars on the air

BYU (24-10)

vs. Stanford (18-15)

Wednesday, 8 p.m. MDT

Maples Pavilion, Stanford, California


Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM