LAS VEGAS — BYU men’s basketball coach Dave Rose put it rather bluntly when asked about the new West Coast Conference Tournament format: “It’s a little unsettling not knowing who we play.”
The Cougars are the No. 3 seed in the WCC Tournament this season, which means they don’t play until Saturday against the winner of the Santa Clara-San Diego second round matchup. That game won’t be completed until sometime around 10 p.m. in Las Vegas.
At that point, the BYU coaches and players can begin game prep for Saturday’s late tip (10 p.m. MT).
The Cougars just played San Diego last week, so that game plan is still pretty fresh. BYU played Santa Clara only once, an 80-74 victory in Provo on Jan. 12.
“The stress and the strain for the most part is on the assistant coaches,” Rose said. “They all have responsibilities. They all have a certain team, and if that team wins they move to the front of the line as far as preparation is concerned.
“What you’re really trying to do with the players is to kind of manage them and keep them healthy and strong and rested. You’re worried about nutrition, you’re worried about meal times, about how much court time to put into it, about how much prep time. We do a lot of walkthroughs in the hotel lobbies and ballrooms.”
Rose said the Cougars used to have a ball of tape that they would use to simulate a basketball, but the trainers pack a mid-size ball to throw around in the lobby or ballroom.
“We try to have a lot of prep without using a lot of energy,” Rose said. “We want to save the energy for the games.”
This week BYU has been working on what they can control, and that’s their own development and focus.
“You’ve got to play like yourselves,” BYU junior forward Yoeli Childs said. “There’s going to be ups and downs. I think this team has seen a lot of ups and downs. We’ve been at the highest of highs in some of our big games and the lowest of lows in some of our losing streaks. The key is to be consistent and to be ourselves and look like us.
“Coach says that lot, that we want to look like us and look like we look in practice, not try to do it ourselves. To win championships is hard and it takes everybody. No one player can do it themselves. If we play together then I think we can go take care of business.”
The past week has also been a chance for freshman big man Gavin Baxter to get healthy. Baxter missed last Saturday’s San Diego game with a bad case of the flu. His shot blocking ability makes the Cougars a much better defensive team and that will be important during the tournament.
“Gav is getting stronger every day,” BYU junior forward Zac Seljaas said. “It’s hard coming back from sickness. You can’t control it, you just have to rest. He’s come a long way from being that sick.”
BYU is in a situation where its only entry into the NCAA Tournament is to win three times at Orleans Arena.
“That’s what is so great about March,” Childs said. “That’s why players want to play. That’s what’s so exciting about it. We have so many winners on our team, guys who have won state championships and exceled in these types of games. I think that really translates.”
When asked about his pro basketball future, Childs said he was focused on his team and the WCC Tournament.
“That (his pro career) isn’t really where my thoughts are at right now,” he said. “My thoughts are on tomorrow having a great practice, then having a great game the next day and taking this team as far as we can go.”
After his sophomore season, Childs put his name into the NBA Draft to be evaluated and withdrew so he could play his junior season in Provo.
A big influence
Rose said the improvement in his team’s defense is a result of the efforts McKay Cannon and Nick Emery on the guard line and Baxter in the paint.
“Adding Gav and the natural instincts he has with him getting to know our system: How to guard ball screens up top and how to guard ball screens on the wing. He’s second in the league in blocked shots and those are all potential scores at the rim. You take four or five baskets away in a game and that can really help you.”