MILWAUKEE, Wis. — There was a bounce in Dave Rose's step as he returned to the locker room to greet his team before its 40-minute shootaround.
Rose clapped his hands twice, bringing a quick hush over what had been a talkative group during NCAA-mandated media responsibilities at Bradley Center.
He read off a few instructions and reminders Wednesday, nearly 24 hours before the big game. The first one was about when the Cougars could literally begin touching the basketballs on the court: Not a second before 12:45 p.m. Not a second, Rose emphasized, after the final horn went off.
Yes, these NCAA Tournament handlers are sticklers for their laws.
And, yes, it's good to be back dealing with them.
The Cougars will play Oregon on Thursday afternoon after missing out on the true "March Madness" last year.
Oregon is a familiar opponent, though. Both have gone through their surges and problems. BYU would like to thinks it's the more-different team (in a positive way) starting at approximately 1:15 p.m. Utah time.
"This is where we want to be," BYU guard Matt Carlino said.
Not just in Wisconsin. Not just away from the NIT. There's a symmetry to playing UO, too.
"We were pretty much up the whole game," said Carlino of an overtime loss right before Christmas. "We had them, and we tired out late."
BYU could've ran for hours, it seemed, as it ventured into the home venue of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.
For most players, it was their first experience with a completely open practice that a few hundred fans watched. Some younger teammates have talked to older players about what to expect.
A few even talked to athletic trainer Robert Ramos, who would reply:
"I just told them 'It's all that you've heard, and every game you win makes it that much more.' I know I get here, and I'm even more juiced up to work."
The buzz word from BYU's media availability was "aggressive." They need to be that way, even after a significant roster change.
The Cougars are without point guard Kyle Collinsworth, a versatile triple-double waiting to happen. He injured his knee last Tuesday in the West Coast Conference championship game.
Oregon sticks with the company line (that of coach Dana Altman) that others will step up for BYU.
"I'm hurt for him," said UO point guard Johnathan Loyd, who got to know Collinsworth when his older brother, Michael, was a BYU teammate. "It sucks. I feel bad for him. I know how much he really helped them. But I also know they're going to do everything they can to play for him and try to keep winning."
Both teams feel like they faced big adversity to reach this point.
BYU had a series of big leads and hard losses, including at UO — a six-point cushion with two minutes left, and even nearly losing it in regulation except for a couple of Ducks' botched free throws.
Not that Oregon's been fortunate all season.
The No. 7-seeded Ducks (23-9) won their first 13 games, counting defeats of the Cougars and Utah, before hitting a skid that Altman conceded had him wondering if there would be no chance at all of replicating last year's Sweet 16 appearance.
BYU's loss in Eugene had the Cougars in a four-game losing streak. It's still taken a lot of hills and valleys beyond that to find Milwaukee.
Now the motivations are pretty simple for the Cougars, aside from redemption against the Ducks: BYU (23-11) is well aware that a lot of folks consider them as too high of a seed at No. 10.
"These guys deserve to be here," Rose said in easily his most terse response amid 20 minutes of pleasant answers during questioning.
Deserving a second chance against Oregon, while unusual by NCAA bracketing history, may just be very proper.
The Cougars were 8-5 when they left Eugene, stunned right before a quick holiday break.
They've re-invented themselves a few times. Putting Carlino into a sixth-man role. Changing ideas on how to keep freshman center Eric Mika out of foul trouble. Now, a first try without Collinsworth, who is home after knee surgery.
Rose said the Cougars were an "emotional wreck" the first practice after doing it without Collinsworth. The team had just gotten hammered in the West Coast Conference tournament title game. They didn't know where or when they'd play again.
Tensions were obviously high.
Assistant coach Mark Pope likes the baggage the Cougars brought to Wisconsin.
"I think our guys have been pretty good at taking that energy and directing it into a positive outcome," he said.
He wouldn't mind seeing the score get up there, like the 100-96 outcome last time.
"That would be a fun game for them and a fun game for us. Both teams being hyper-aggressive — that's a fun game for fans to watch," said Pope, a standout on a Kentucky national championship team nearly two decades ago. "That's what this tournament should be: you leave nothing out there, right? It's about putting it all out there and see what comes of it. That's how we play."
How will BYU behave under what Rose has called a few times "really bright lights?"
If Frank Bartley's body language is an indication, life's really good to be in the NCAA Tournament and facing UO again. And about to get better.
"I've watched that game three times," said the freshman from Louisiana, whose father was expected to arrive in the area Thursday morning. "As much as we scored, we could've scored more. We left a lot of transition points on the table, which we could've scored. We could've scored more in the half-court setting. It basically comes down to us getting a few more defensive stops.
"I feel like now we're more focused. We're going to get those stops now."
Bartley leaned back in his chair, soaking up the stage he's talked to Ramos and others about.
"We'll be fine," he said.