PROVO — For the second time this season, the BYU basketball team is suffering through a three-game losing streak.
The Cougars were able to stop the first such slide in early December with a home victory over Utah State. Now they’ll try to turn things around on the road Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPNU) in their West Coast Conference opener at Pacific.
BYU’s glaring weakness in those three straight defeats has been a lack of defense. The Cougars gave up 90, 92 and 103 points, respectively, in losses to UNLV, San Diego State and Mississippi State.
Improved defensive play is one of the keys for BYU (8-7).
“That’s the mindset. It’s been the mindset for basically three weeks. Our performance at San Diego State didn’t show it, and then our performance at Mississippi State didn’t show it,” said coach Dave Rose. “Both of those games created unique challenges, but not so unique because Pacific is that type of team. They’re a drive-in, athletic … the seven or eight guys they play are very athletic and they’re hard to stay in front of. And they’re really good offensive rebounders. We’ve got that challenge.”
The Cougars will be facing the reigning WCC player of the week, Pacific freshman guard Ajare Sanni, who scored 23 points in a victory over UC Irvine last weekend.
Forward Yoeli Childs said he wants to see his team play a complete game.
“A lot of times we’re playing really smart but are we playing hard as a team, especially on the defensive end? Are we playing hard to make up for other guys? Are we playing hard and smart? That’s our biggest thing. Sometimes we play really smart and sometimes we play really hard. When we do both, we’re a really good team. We’re going to try to do that for 40 minutes.”
Another problem for the Cougars has been turnovers, which have led to easy baskets for opponents.
“A lot of that is us being careless with the ball and not executing,” Rose said. “A lot of it is maybe trying to do a little too much individually because we’ve been behind.”
Rose said he’s learned a lot about his team in the preseason.
“One of the things is that our best defensive team is not our best offensive team. That’s our challenge. We’ve got to be able to play the guys who can get ourselves in a position to run our offense, be cohesive in that, be aggressive and be effective and be able to execute, then be able to get (opposing) guys to miss and then get the ball. That’s seems to be an issue for at least the last three games.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: BYU hasn’t played at home since a victory over Portland State on Dec. 12. The Cougars are in a stretch of five consecutive road contests, including a game Saturday at Saint Mary's.9 comments on this story
“Being on the road with these guys is always a good time. We haven’t had the success that we’ve wanted. We’ve had some close ones and some that really slipped away from us,” said forward Luke Worthington. “The bottom line is, every game you learn. We’ve learned from a few too many losses here now. I think on this road trip, heading into conference, we’re well-prepared for the challenge that it is. We all understand the atmosphere we’re walking into and the intensity that the home court team is going to bring. I think we’re ready for conference and especially this two-game swing because we’ve been in it for a while now.”
PERSONNEL ISSUES: Rose said that forward Kolby Lee is healthy again after being sidelined for the Mississippi State game due to an illness.
Forward Dalton Nixon also did not play at Mississippi State as he is dealing with “some personal issues with a lot of help from the athletic administration and the university administration,” according to Rose.
Rose added that Nixon has been practicing with the team, but it’s too early to know if he’ll play Thursday.