The general consensus is that BYU basketball players are aware that going to Salt Lake City could be a common theme this year. Maybe even four times.
There are two games there between now and the new year, starting Wednesday with Montana visiting EnergySolutions Arena, and it just so happens that the NBA venue is one of four sites the Cougars could attend as part of next March's NCAA Tournament during the first full weekend of the madness.
Of course, that's a long way off. And head coach Dave Rose would settle at this point for a win, and figuring out a starting lineup.
The 4-2 Cougars will tinker again for the 7 p.m. tipoff, going with Craig Cusick again at point guard (in place of Matt Carlino for the second consecutive game) along with Josh Sharp at the power-forward spot. They'll join wing Brock Zylstra, center Brandon Davies and the team's best scorer -- Tyler Haws.
"Our guys love to play in these arenas...especially at the end of the year. If you're in one then, you're probably in the NCAA Tournament. There's a real art to have something a little bit different, excites you, but still you're able to execute your gameplan; go out and actually perform the way your coaches and teammates expect you to perform."
The lineup changes, Rose said, aren't necessarily because of poor starts. He's liked the way the Cougars have come out of the chute.They’ve won the last two games since struggling in New York.
"I'm looking for the best way to continue that start," Rose said.
Calino's issues have been comfort and level and pace, Rose said, both of which looked better last weekend in the team's win against Cal State-Northridge. Zylstra is already showing himself to be a valuable perimeter defender, capable of locking into a team's top scorer, a role Charles Abouo had last year. Zylstra's offense has suffered for it some, but he's adjusting -- as proven by a couple of late 3-pointers that helped to valuably extend the lead against then-undefeated Northridge.
Sharp played strong in the last game's first half, which earned him a second-half start. He's especially valuable right now on the boards and achieving an occasional blocked shot.
Haws against Montana will be trying to become only the second BYU player (along with Devin Durrant his senior year, 1983-84) of starting the year with seven consecutive 20-point games.
"What Ty's done has been phenomenal," Zylstra said of the springtime returned missionary. "He took his time, basically, and started getting back into the game at a comfortable pace for him."
Haws is looking like the type of player that could lead an NCAA Tournament charge -- a consistent scorer who can produce late in games because of his conditioning level, confidence and fearlessness at being sent to the free-throw line.
Ah, but again, that's looking too far ahead. Besides, Rose is skeptical about getting such a chance to play so close to home, where the team will have already played two games. (The other cities available to the Cougars, who could only play in 4-of-8 sites because of the no-Sunday policy, are Detroit, Lexington, Ky., and San Jose, Calif. A team can play three regular-season games at a venue and still be considered eligible.)
BYU will also play Virginia Tech on Dec. 29 at ESA. The Hokies of the ACC played host to BYU last year, where the Cougars won in Blacksburg last January. But then-coach Seth Greenberg refused to return the game directly to the Marriott Center.
Rose is happy to have the relationship to the north, where the basically annual game in Salt Lake City has usually been played right before Christmas. The Cougars are 7-2 there since 2003, when Rafael Araujo had a stellar game to lead to a win against ranked Oklahoma State, and have won the last five trips north.
"This is tough to schedule," Rose said, noting it's not much easier to acquire an opponent at ESA compared to the notoriously difficult Provo home. " We had three different teams that were committed to this game. Montana was the one that actually hung on, and stayed in there."
Montana’s trying to “hang in there” right now, too.
Montana (3-1) finished 25-7 last year, won 15-of-16 Big Sky Conference games and then ousted future high NBA draft pick Damian Lillard and Weber State in the league tournament to get an NCAA bid.
The Grizzlies returned their top three scorers, though Will Cherry -- the league's returning scorer and a strong perimeter defender -- broke his foot in September and is still a few weeks away from playing.
BYU (4-2) vs. Montana (3-1)
7 p.m., EnergySolutions Arena (Salt Lake City)
Radio: KSL 1160 AM (102.7 FM)
Tip-ins: Tyler Haws has opened the season with 6 consecutive 20-point games. Only Devin Durrant (his senior year, 1983-84) is better, with seven. ...Jimmer Fredette ended the 2010-11 season with 22 consecutive 20-point games...BYU is 7-2 at ESA since 2003, including wins in the last five.