Cougars Preparing For Aztec Board Assault

The Cougars have won 20 straight home games and are looking to set a new school record for wins in the regular season. Earning their 26th win of the season would be a milestone accomplishment for the Cougar program, but to do so they must first beat a 20-7 SDSU team loaded with talent.

Two-time MWC Coach of the Year Dave Rose has guided the Cougars to three straight MWC regular season titles. To continue on the path to a fourth consecutive title, the Cougars will have to get past a feisty Aztec team.

And while the Cougars beat San Diego State on the road earlier in the year, they aren't looking past the Aztecs towards Saturday's showdown against No. 10 New Mexico.

"Last year we got beat at home against UNLV," recalled Jimmer Fredette. "We were up big at the half, and you can't take any games for granted in conference or anything else because [SDSU] is coming in here and they want to give us that first loss. We want to get that 21st win at home and they're going to do everything to prevent it."

By beating SDSU, BYU would set a new school record for wins in the regular season wins with 26.

"It's great for our team and for our coaching staff, fans and the community," said Fredette. "For them to see that this is the best record ever here at BYU so far is a fun thing for all of us. We're excited and hopefully we can keep growing."

The first and foremost concern for the Cougars on Wednesday will be keeping the Aztecs from controlling the boards.

"We've always played them pretty tough but they're really athletic and really long," said Jonathan Tavernari, who just became BYU's all-time wins leader with his 98th victory as a Cougar. "You put those things together and you've got a really good rebounding team, so we have to make sure that we take care of the glass both offensively and defensively."

"This game that's coming up, we have to rebound really, really well," said Chris Miles. "We've spent a little more time during practice on rebounding. I think as long as we focus, rebound, don't turn the ball over and play unselfishly we'll be okay."

If the Cougars are going to win the battle of the boards, their bigs need to avoid foul trouble.

"It's crazy because we had early on in the season maybe two or three games where we had some foul trouble with our post players," said Miles. "Then we would have around 10-12 games where we didn't have any problems, and then we've had maybe around two games in a row where that hasn't been the case. I don't know if it's a tendency or just how we're playing right now.

"I don't anticipate us being in foul trouble. That's just something that's happened over the last couple of games. It hasn't been a huge focus or issue because it is something that hasn't happened all season long where we've needed to try better to avoid it. It's just happened two or three games in a row."

Meanwhile, SDSU is a team that is not lacking in talented players.

"They've got some really good post players that make them a really good rebounding team," Tavernari said. "[Malcolm Thomas is] their main scorer down low. Another one is Kawhi Leonard, and D.J. Gay is really good, and Tyrone Shelley is really good off the bench for them, so they've got some really good players over there. Between Billy White, Malcolm Thomas and their freshman player Kawhi Leonard, they're really good about 15-to-14 feet in, so we have to take care of that.

"The thing about them is they have really good individual players. They've got guys that can score a lot down low, so that's one thing we have to take care of. I have to make sure that we protect the basket down low, and we can do that by making them play more on the outside. They're a very good rebounding team and that's one thing we have to watch out for."

Tavernari won't be the only player that will factor into the rebounding battle, of course.

"I not only feel that Noah [Hartsock] will be important to us but also having Brandon [Davies] back will be big for us," said Tavernari. "We didn't have him a whole lot the last game, and he was still trying to get back from having that appendicitis. So we need him to have a big game and for Chris Miles to have a big game."

One of the keys in BYU's last few victories over SDSU has been stingy zone defense.

"Sometimes the zone will put [SDSU] a little more stagnant, but I'm sure they're putting in some more zone plays to try and counter," said Miles. "The biggest thing [for us] is trying to rebound out of that zone because they're such a good offensive rebounding team that it's sometimes hard to rebound, especially on that back side when the guy is flying in."

Rebounding won't just fall on the shoulders of BYU's post players, however.

"We need all these guys to come in and give us a bunch of rebounds, not just one [guy]," said Tavernai. "I also think our guards are going to have to come in and help us out too, because SDSU's guards are really, really good rebounders too."

"It's hard to rebound, so we did a good job of that and Charles Abouo did a great job of that when we went into that zone [against SDSU last month]," Miles said. "Hopefully we can do it again and that will help slow them down a bit."

The Cougars will play their next two games, the first against San Diego State and the second against New Mexico on Saturday, at the Marriott Center.

"You know. it's kind of tough because here we try to take it one game at a time," said Tavernari. "It's kind of hard for us to say, ‘Okay, let's do this against San Diego State to prepare for New Mexico.' I know the whole world would want us to look ahead at New Mexico, but it's kind of a tough situation when we have a really, really good San Diego State team coming in here on Wednesday. So we'll leave it up to the media to hype up the first-against-first team matchups. The most important thing is we've got those two tough teams here at the Marriott Center and we just have to take care of each team that comes in here one game at a time."

Backboard Notes

Jimmer Fredette has received his fifth MWC Player of the Week award, putting him in a position to become the first player in the MWC to have more than five in a season.

"That's great and I didn't know that stat," said Fredette. "It's great and it's neat to be named among some of the best players in this league. It's a great accomplishment and hopefully I have some more good weeks ahead of me, and we're going to need some good games. We'll see how it goes, but it's great."

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