BYU to Face Nationally Ranked Arizona State

The BYU men's basketball game against the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday is a special and intriguing matchup for a number of reasons, including the venue it's played at, the caliber of team the Cougars will face, and the fact that it's the homecoming for star Lee Cummard.

Until this Saturday, Lee Cummard has never had the opportunity to play a college basketball game in his home state. Coincidentally enough, he was in attendance as a spectator the last time BYU played in Arizona - a 64-60 victory over Arizona State six years ago when Travis Hansen was a senior. Cummard said it will be a neat experience for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because it will be so close to his home.

"It's also a neat experience due to the fact that, I mean, I was pretty close to going to ASU and playing for the Sun Devils, so I'm just looking forward to it," said Cummard. "It's a big game, [they're a] Pac-10 school, they're picked to be at the top of the Pac-10, so it's a good test for us to see where we're at. I mean, even if it wasn't down in my hometown, and stuff like that, it's a game I would look forward to."

But of course, the fact that the game is near his hometown makes it that much more meaningful for Cummard. After all, as he said, he nearly chose to play for Arizona State, and he had a lot of exposure to Sun Devil athletics as he grew up.

"I grew up going to their football games [and] to the basketball games," said Cummard, whose family still lives in Arizona. "Their arena is probably about 15 minutes without traffic from my house, and it's a Pac-10 school, so I was real close to going there."

However, Saturday's game will not be played at Arizona State's arena, but rather at the nearby University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, last year's Super Bowl, the annual Fiesta Bowl and the BCS Championship game two years ago. The game is part of the 2008 Stadium Shootout, a pair of matchups that will be the first ever basketball games played in University of Phoenix Stadium. Louisville and Minnesota will play first on Saturday before BYU and Arizona State square off.

Coach Rose said he likes for his players to be able to go and play a game at or near their hometown.

"I think it's a good opportunity for our team when you get a chance to go back and play in kind of a geographical area of any of the team members," he said. "Guys like it, but I think that you try to take the focus off of that individual situation and understand the challenge of our team, and this is a good opportunity for us. I think that when you look at Arizona State, and how well they've played over the last couple years, [you see] that it's an opportunity for us to play a good team outside of our league, and get ourselves ready for league."

Rose said some players might enjoy playing at home more than others, but that a lot of the time it's probably not as fun for the player as it is for the player's family members, past coaches and others.

"I remember when we took Keena [Young] back to Beaumont and we played at Lamar a couple of years ago that the comments that I got from the people who came [expressed] just how appreciative they were that we would come back and that they could come and watch Keena in that situation," said Rose, "and I don't know how much Keena really appreciated it, but I do know that [with] the support systems of these players, there's so many people who play a role in getting them to where they are that it's good for that group of people for sure."

Cummard doesn't know exactly how many supporters of his will be there on Saturday, but he does know that a lot of his family members will be in attendance. And while he said he's looking forward to it, it may give him the added challenge of keeping his emotions in check.

"I try not to," said Cummard when asked if he'll feel any pressure or nervousness. "I don't know, we'll see [on] game day. Most games I haven't felt too much nerves or butterflies to this point in my career. I'm just looking to go down there and help this team win. I hope to have a good turnout of fans and have a good experience."

Regardless of those extracurricular details, Saturday's game will likely be a very difficult one for BYU. The 8-1 Sun Devils come into the game ranked as high as No. 17 nationally, and will be the best team that the undefeated 10-0 Cougars have faced to this point. The game will pose a number of challenges for BYU.

"Well I think the biggest challenge is James Harden," said Coach Rose, referring to ASU's star sophomore guard and the Pac-10's Freshman of the Year last season. "I mean, he's the National Player of the Year candidate and preseason Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate, and so when you get a player of that caliber where he has confidence in his game, the coach has confidence in him, and other players around him [do as well], then that's something that you gotta game plan for."

Harden's 23.7 points per game so far this season not only lead his team, but are good for eighth nationally. In his last game, a 59-58 overtime victory over IUPUI, Harden only scored a season-low nine points thanks in part to being in foul trouble. However, Coach Rose said that they plan more for, and game plan against, games like Harden's 40-point outburst against UTEP earlier this season.

A group of players will be utilized to guard Harden, but the main players assigned to him will be Cummard, Jackson Emery and Charles Abouo, Rose said. Regardless of who guards Harden, it will be a challenge. Rose said that Arizona State runs a lot of things for Harden, and in addition he has a lot of freedom, he's crafty, and the fact that he's left-handed will be something somewhat different for the players to face.

"[Harden's] a great player," said Cummard, who added that going against big-name players is always fun and is a good way to see how he or his team stacks up. "I mean, watching some of the games [he's played in], he deserves to receive all the recognition he's getting. In the games I've seen, or seen bits and pieces of, he flat-out can play."

Don't expect Harden to be the only challenge for BYU, however.

"They are not a one-man team, that being said," Rose added. "[Senior forward Jeff] Pendergraph is a terrific inside player. They've got a really good point guard [junior Derek Glasser] who can get them into the offense, [a] great shooter on the wing, and so the balance of their team will create a real problem for us too, being able to deal with their post play, their skill level shooting the ball from the wing, and then, you know, [a] potential top-five NBA draft pick [in Harden], so it's a challenge."

Indeed, Saturday will be a big challenge for the Cougars, but Coach Rose isn't lacking optimism.

"I have a lot of confidence in our team, I have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff, and we'll put that game plan together and then we'll go out and execute it," he said, "and hopefully it will be something that [we can] get a lot of confidence in throughout the game."

As for Cummard, he'll try to push aside the personal significance that the game holds for him so he can take care of business.

"I'm gonna go out there and try to play just like any other game, not get too caught up in the environment and playing in front of family and friends, and hopefully I can do that, so we'll see," he said.

Familiar Faces

Wednesday's practice had a few familiar faces in attendance. One of those was the aforementioned Keena Young, while the other was Austin Ainge. Both were seniors when BYU won its first conference title under Coach Rose two seasons ago and the school's first outright title since 1987-88. In addition, Young was voted the MWC Player of the Year that season.

Since graduating, Young has been a member of professional basketball teams in Belgium and then Korea, while Ainge was an assistant coach for Southern Utah University before going to work as a scout for his father, former BYU legend and current Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.

"We get visits quite frequently from a lot of our ex-players," Rose said. "They like to come back [and] they're always welcome to be at practice, so when we get them here it's good to catch up and see where they've been and what they're doing. So, they're always welcome."


Total Blue Sports Top Stories