BYU Starts Conference Play Against CSU

The Cougars begin their conference title defense Saturday when they go on the road to take on the Colorado State Rams. BYU enters conference play with a healthy 12-2 record, albeit one that includes disappointing narrow losses to nationally ranked Arizona State and Wake Forest.

The Rams meanwhile, coming off a season in which the only conference game they won was the MWC Tournament play-in game, are currently 5-10. Last week they had their first conference game, an 81-67 loss to TCU, while BYU is the only MWC team to have not played a conference game yet.

The Cougars view their nonconference schedule as good preparation for conference play, and have used that time to gel as a team and integrate first-time starters and new players.

"I think we're moving forward," said Lee Cummard. "We're right where we want to be. We've got a great team so far and we've been playing well as far as our improvement day by day [goes], and everybody's getting better. We're getting better as a team, so it's exciting."

The players and coaches are prepared for the unique experience that is conference play on the road.

"It's just a different level of intensity when you play in a conference game, and a lot of that is created by the familiarity of your players because they know each other," said Coach Rose. "A lot of it's created by the coaches and how they prepare their players, because they know the other team's personnel pretty well, and you have to be able to get through that. And I really believe that Colorado State has a pretty good idea of how we play and how we score, and that they're gonna put a game plan together that's gonna really try to stop that."

On Thursday Cummard said he hadn't yet talked to the team's younger players about playing on the road during conference play, but that he planned to before the Colorado State game.

"They're gonna get thrown into something that's a neat experience, but a tough one at the same time," said Cummard.

He said he knows it will be tough to play on the road during conference play, but that winning on the road will be necessary if the Cougars are to win another conference championship.

As for the Rams, their struggles last year have not led Coach Rose to think that Saturday's game will be an easy one. Rose pointed to No. 18 Minnesota's (currently 14-1) 72-71 escape against the Rams in Fort Collins earlier this season as evidence that the game will be a challenge.

"If you can play Minnesota to a one-point game on your home floor, then you've got the ability to beat anybody, so that's what we'll prepare for," he said.

The Rams play inside-out, utilizing their post players, but they also set a lot of screens on the perimeter and try to drive the ball into the paint. They are a young team with seven sophomores on the roster, and Rose said it shows in how they look really good at times and then aren't as consistent at other times.

The Rams feature Marcus Walker, who led the MWC last year in scoring. Ordinarily a starter, Walker has come off the bench in each of Colorado State's last four games. Rose said everybody will get a chance to guard Walker because of how many ball screens the Rams set for him, though he singled out Jimmer Fredette, Jackson Emery, Lamont Morgan and Charles Abouo in particular. He added that it will probably depend on who is in the least amount of foul trouble.

Rose also observed that second-year CSU coach Tim Miles is a lot more settled and consistent this year with what he's running, whereas last year it seemed like he was trying a lot of different things.

As for his own team, Rose talked about how his team's depth is coming along.

"I really think that, offensively, our depth is increasing, okay, and I think that this team is really progressing at a good pace offensively," he said. "We're scoring the ball well, we're sharing the ball well, we're getting a lot of different people involved in our offense. We still rely a lot on our two captains [Cummard and Jonathan Tavernari] to score, but other guys are starting to figure out ways to help this team offensively. Defensively, I think, is where we're really inconsistent. One game we'll get really good play out of a couple guys, and then the next game it's not as good, and what we need to do is to be able to develop that consistency to increase our depth."

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