Life goes on for the hunted

As the first half of conference play winds down, the Cougars find themselves in some familiar territory and some unfamiliar territory. The unfamiliarity is due to the fact that they're coming off a loss, something that's only happened one other time so far this season (and not in a conference game). As for familiarity, that comes with having a target on their back.

After suffering their first conference loss of this season last Saturday against New Mexico, the Cougars have learned from the setback and are moving on.

"I think our guys understand some of the things we did really well in that game, [and] some of the things we need to improve upon," said Coach Rose.

The main thing they took away from the loss was what they need to do better defensively (specifically citing Lobo point guard Dairese Gary driving too easily into the paint against them). There was also an issue of energy late in the game.

"This was a game that I thought we played hard enough to win the game," Rose said. "Late in the game it looked like they were a step quicker than we were, and I think guys could see that. Sometimes it happens and you can't really recognize it, but you get a chance to take a look at it from a different angle, and I know our guys are ready to get out there and play again."

But, there was no sense of desperation or despair among the team at getting their first conference loss.

Instead, there was an air of disappointment, but also the attitude that life (and the season) goes on and that they weren't going to dwell on the loss.

"I think every time that you get beat, you have an opportunity to kind of look in yourself – although I think that's just natural, especially when you have competitive guys," said Rose.

Only twice during Rose's time as head coach have the Cougars lost consecutive games in the regular season (and only one of those instances came during conference play), so they've shown the ability to bounce back and get back on the winning track. When the Cougars lost to UCLA earlier this season, they responded by winning 10 games in a row.

"These bounce-back games, they're so important to you," said Rose, adding that there's nothing more important than their game against Wyoming on Wednesday.

Rose even expressed some eagerness to see how his team deals with their most recent loss.

"There's a part of me that is actually excited when I see the guys [and] how they respond to a little bit of disappointment, little bit of adversity," said Rose. "This group responded really well last time we got beat. Hopefully we'll respond well again."

Helping the Cougars take everything in stride is the wild week college basketball just had, when BYU was hardly the only highly ranked team to get upset. Of the 13 ranked teams that lost last weekend, nine (including BYU) lost to unranked teams, while some other ranked teams – including No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Pittsburgh – had very close calls to unranked teams.

"I can't remember a week in college basketball where the top 25 teams were in as many close games and actually got beat as many times as they did," said Rose.

"I guess it kind of helps when you see around the country that [12] other top-25 teams lost, and that it happens all the time in basketball, and also it helps when you know that you still look at your conference standings and you're still at the top of the standings," said Jackson Emery.

It's something that's to be expected in the topsy-turvy world of college basketball when shocking upsets can occur fairly frequently, particularly when having to go on the road and defend one's national ranking.

"A couple teams won in the top 25, but not too many, and that's kind of what happens," said Jimmer Fredette. "You get that target on your back, people get ready for you, and it seems like every single year, one or two weekends that will happen."

Having a target on their back is certainly not a new experience for BYU, as it's been that way while they've been winning a lot in recent years. Of course, it's also been that way in the past under different coaching staffs as well.

Take the fact that BYU is generally the most hated team in the conference (thanks in part to having won a lot, as well as perceived arrogance on BYU's part), and then combine that with their current top-10 ranking, all the national attention they – and particularly Jimmer Fredette – are getting, and the fact that this is their last year in the Mountain West Conference, and suddenly the target on their back is bigger than ever.

Every week it seems that they are getting a team's best shot, particularly on the road when the opponents are more fired up than normal and are playing in front of their biggest home crowd of the season. Everyone is gunning for the Cougars

So in a sense, the Cougars are the hunted. That's why it's imperative they play with the attitude that they are the hunters, or the aggressors, and go out and seize their opportunities instead of being timid or playing not to lose. Otherwise, they could find themselves getting shell-shocked.

It sounds like it would be a big source of stress and pressure for BYU, but players such as Fredette and Emery have said they like it that way.

"First of all, it's fun basketball," said Emery. "That's why you play this game, is for those type of games to get their best shot so it makes you better. And at the same time, I think it's really important because when you get into conference tournament play, when you get into NCAA Tournament play, you're gonna play great teams and they're gonna give you their best shots, and if you're not used to getting a team's best shot, that's gonna surprise you. It's gonna be a punch to your face. But hopefully this gives us a little experience and a little motivation to know that we have to come ready to play each game."


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