Cougars Preparing for the Gators

It's hard to say who would win in a fight between a cougar and a gator, but with Thursday's game between BYU and Florida fast approaching, we may soon have an answer. In the meantime, Coach Rose and his staff have been working on preparing the team not just in terms of schemes and strategy, but also mentally for what they are about to experience. After all, it's called March Madness for a reason.

"I can't wait," said Jimmer Fredette. "The last two years we've done this it's been one-and-done, and we don't want that to happen this year. We're gonna go out there, play as hard as we possibly can, leave it all on the floor and hopefully advance to that Saturday game."

Many players on BYU's roster, like Fredette, have experienced the NCAA Tournament before. However, of those in BYU's regular rotation, true freshmen Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies are new to the whole experience.

"The guys have told me just it's a fun environment, and nothing that we haven't seen," said Haws. "I mean, we've played in lots of big arenas with crazy environments, and we're looking forward to the challenge."

Regardless of their experience, the Cougars are being mentally prepared for the tournament by Coach Rose.

"The mental part of this is to get them to be able to relax in a big stage and play with just a fanatical effort, with a real sense of urgency at a real high level of effectiveness," Rose said.

The Cougars got off to a poor start each of the past two years when they faced Texas A&M in consecutive first-round tournament games. Rose will no doubt want to avoid getting off to a similarly slow start again this year.

"What I really hope is that our guys just play with a real sense of urgency and it doesn't take us time to get adjusted to the environment and the setting."

Of course, the Cougars aren't just preparing for the environment alone; they are in the midst of studying Florida and putting together a game plan.

"They're an athletic team," said Jackson Emery. "If you watch their big guys, they're really athletic and they're really good at finishing around the basket. At times this year when we've played really athletic teams they've hurt us with rebounding and just scoring around the basket, so for the most part we just gotta keep them a little farther out than they're used to."

"They're very athletic, they like to get up and down," said Fredette. "Chandler Parsons is a very good player, 6'9" three-man, so he's pretty tall [and can] create some mismatches for us."

According to the team, Florida is reminiscent of some of the best teams in the Mountain West Conference.

"They remind me a lot of the conference teams that we actually play, like New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State," said Fredette. "They're all that type of team: very athletic, like to get out and run, and [there isn't] a guy in the middle that's really huge, but they're very athletic and get offensive rebounds and like to run the floor. So it's kind of like the teams that we play, which is good for us."

Coach Rose had a similar evaluation of the Gators.

"You can compare them to a couple teams in our league. I think they're a little more talented, a little bigger and stronger, but they play like the good teams in our league play. They're athletic, they got good guards, they shoot the ball well, they've got good inside players, strong athletic post guys, and there is some comparison to New Mexico."

Fredette is actually familiar with the aforementioned Parsons, having played against him in AAU ball. He is also familiar with Gator point guard Erving Walker.

"He's a good point guard," said Fredette. "I played against him at AAU, back in New York in some AAU tournaments. He's crafty, he's quick, shoots the ball really well, can get into the lane and finish, has a really good floater game."

Coach Rose is anticipating a great point guard matchup between Fredette and Walker.

"They both like the ball in their hands, and they're good with the ball. I think that Walker is a real tough guy to get stopped because he can get anywhere he wants on the floor, can make plays for himself, make plays for his teammates. [When] you're a second-team all-league in the SEC, you're a pretty good player."

As for their defense, the Gators primarily play a man-to-man defense and will extend some full-court pressure. However, they also play some 2-3 zone, something that Rose believes might be partially due to their team's short rotation and subsequent need to avoid foul trouble.

In fact, the Gators do indeed typically foul very little. That doesn't mean, however, that Coach Rose is expecting a finesse-type game. He said one of the things the team will emphasize in preparation for Florida is drawing contact.

"Well, you know it's gonna be a physical game, and you're playing a team from one of the most physical conferences in the country," said Rose. "And that's just the nature of the tournament games, and so we're gonna have to be really, really aggressive, we're gonna have to go right into them. We have a tendency at times to try to change our shot and we end up empty. We end up without drawing the foul because we've adjusted our shot and we don't make the basket."

It is definitely in the Cougars' best interest to get to the free-throw line, as they currently lead the nation in free-throw percentage (78.6 percent). Fredette has made 33 consecutive free throws, while Haws has made 38 consecutive. Those are the third- and second-longest streaks in BYU history, respectively, and are only behind the streak of 39 consecutive that Fredette made earlier this season.

Haws Update

Speaking of Haws, lately he has been a sight for – pardon the pun – sore eyes. After getting hit in the left eye during last Thursday's game against TCU and having a contact lens shoved to the back of his eye, he had to miss Friday's game against UNLV. Haws was seen on the bench during that game with his eye swollen completely shut.

As of Monday, however, his left eye was open about halfway. It was bloodshot, and he had a bit of a shiner, but nevertheless was able to fully participate in that day's practice.

"It looks worse than it is, but I can see fine and I was able to do everything," said Haws.

Not only did Haws practice, but by all accounts he did pretty well.

"I think he surprised all of us because his eye is not completely open but his shots were dropping for some reason," said Emery.

"We were surprised at how well he did today," said Rose. "He doesn't look the best, but that thing has opened up a little bit and he was able to practice and he was effective in practice. So we'll keep our fingers crossed, and the swelling needs to go down so he can get full vision in that eye, but he can see clearly in the spot that's open."

"It's all bloodshot, looks kind of weird," said Fredette. "It's kind of funny. But he's ready to go and he'll be ready to play on Thursday."


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