Cougar Bounces: Colorado St.

Focus. That was a key word around the team during the last week when multiple distractions arose with the potential to cool down BYU's current hot streak. First, BYU landed in the top 25 for the first time in 14 years. Second, the Cougars did not have a game last weekend to keep their skills sharp. Third, Air Force lost, leaving BYU with a nice two-game cushion in the standings.

Wednesday night against Colorado St, BYU kept their focus on their way to a 76-67 victory. Despite a season-low in three point shooting (2-for-17), they kept their focus. Despite a poor shooting night by Trent Plaisted (3-for-12), the team did not get rattled. And when CSU cut a 14-point lead to just seven late in the second half the Cougars responded with a mini-run of their own.

BYU was paced by Keena Young's game-high 24 points. Lee Cummard added a career-high 20 points, two of which came off a steal and dunk when the Rams had cut that lead to seven.

In a close game, the Cougars also focused at the free-throw line. They were 24-for-31 (77.4%). They were also determined to not get beat on the perimeter – like they were in their loss at Fort Collins. The Rams made just four three-pointers and were just 3-for-12 in the second half. BYU's defensive effort was key in the victory.

The Cougars were also focused on winning the rebounding battle. After getting out-rebounded by nine a month ago, BYU was plus three on the boards last night.

The game was also played before a huge crowd. Nearly 19-thousand fans packed the Marriott Center for a late, weeknight game.

BYU now faces their two biggest games of the year, and both are on the road. The Cougars will be at San Diego State on Saturday (tip-off 4:00 p.m. MST on CSTV) and then at Air Force on Tuesday (tip-off 7 p.m. MST on CSTV).

Grades

Point: B+. Austin Ainge controlled this game. This would have been an "A" if not for a rough patch when handling a full-court pressure late and missing some free throws. Ainge scored 13 points and tied a sesason-high eight assists. He made several acrobatic plays in the first half that kept the crowd very involved. Ben Murdock also came off the bench to give good minutes.

Wing: B. Only one three-point make from the wings, despite 12 attempts. For the most part they were solid on defense and did a good job coming back to help bring the ball up when the Rams pressed. They did hit their free throws (13-for-14) and were effective rebounders (14).

Post: C+. Young's 24 were a lone bright spot for this position. The post really struggled to contain CSU's two seven-footers who combined for 37 points (16-for-23) and 14 rebounds. Of course, part of that may have been the game plan as BYU really focused on perimeter defense.

Coach: A. While the game plan did not call for missing 15 threes, the Cougars did a very good job of mixing up the inside-outside game. The posts got plenty of touches and were aggressive. The coaches also did an excellent job of managing personnel during the final few minutes. Players were shuffled in and out after nearly every possession to optimize offensive and defensive match-ups.

Spiff's Observations

- 18,767 fans for an 8 p.m. start on a Wednesday night further solidifies the real nature of BYU fans. They'll support their team when 1) they win and 2) they're ranked. When a 1-5 UNLV football team came to Provo, more than 63-thousand turned out to see the newly ranked Cougars. This was three thousand more than the previous home game and seven thousand more than the first home game. The nearly 19-thousand at the Marriott Center was close to eight thousand more than showed up last week for the Wednesday night game against New Mexico. The difference is BYU now has a No. 21 in front of its name.

- There really isn't any doubt in my mind that Keena Young should be the MWC Player of the Year. He has scored at least 20 points in five of the last six games. He is the best player on the best team. Without Young, BYU would struggle in the post, and the rest of their game would also suffer.

- BYU is extremely versatile in the way they can play. CSU tried several different styles. They tried slowing things down and they tried to run with the Cougars. They were unsuccessful in both instances. BYU is effective in both half- and open-court offenses.

- The current eight-game win streak is the longest under Coach Dave Rose.

- During the second half, BYU honored service men and women of the Armed Forces. I spoke to several members during the game and the appreciated the notion.


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