The Marriott Center has been good to the BYU basketball team in the 2016-17 season — other arenas have not. But the BYU basketball team is ready to break the road game curse.
Thus far this season, the Cougars (17–8, 8–4) have only lost two of their games at home: a painfully memorable 114–101 loss to crosstown rival Utah Valley University and a predictable loss to West Coast Conference foe and No.1 ranked Gonzaga. In fact, the Cougars have lost more games on the road (6) than they have won (4).
“I really believe that this road trip will kind of define us, tell us where we are, where we need to be and what we need to do,” said BYU coach Dave Rose on Tuesday. “And hopefully we can get both of them.”
The Cougars don’t really know why they’ve struggled away from their home gym, though they constantly acknowledge the strength the crowd brings in the Marriott Center. But BYU sophomore Eric Mika says it is time for the team to break away from the dark cloud hanging over the team and learn from the unfortunate losses.
“I really believe that this road trip will kind of define us, tell us where we are, where we need to be and what we need to do.” — Dave Rose, BYU basketball coach
Mika quoted Rose’s comments from practice saying, “This week and these games are a lot more about us than they are about the other team.” Mika added in his own words, “We’ve just got to play our game. We’ve got to have that mental edge going into it. And we’ve got to stick with it.”
The last time the Cougars had back-to-back road games this season was for the Men Who Speak Up Main Event in November. Unfortunately, the first step to beating their away game slump is a mountain of a challenge out by the ocean. The Cougars haven’t won a game at Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse since 2013.
BYU defeated Pepperdine (7–17, 3–9) handsomely, a 99–70 victory, at the Marriott Center in January. However, Rose says the athletic and physical Waves can and will take it at the Cougars on Thursday night.
“It is a really athletic team and year in and year out they have athletic guys that just cause us problems and they cause us problems in here too — it’s not like it’s just over there,” Rose said. “It’s there size over the years, physical not so much their height but their physical strength, has caused us to either speed up or not be able to function in half court.”
Rose says one of the keys to a BYU victory is getting the ball inside.
“The times that we’ve been successful have been when we can get the ball inside and score around the basket,” Rose said. “We did that with Noah (Hartsock) and with Brandon (Davies) and some of those guys early. … That will be important for us to get at the rim any way we can: dribble penetration, get that ball into the post, hopefully get that foul on them.”
“We’ve just got to play our game. We’ve got to have that mental edge going into it. And we’ve got to stick with it.” — Eric Mika, BYU sophomore
Of course, part of the struggle will be containing Pepperdine’s leading scorer Lamond Murray Jr. Murray, who is the WCC’s leading scorer with an average of 20.7 points a game. He’s ahead of Mika’s 20.6 average points a game.
BYU sophomore Nick Emery, who has recovered from last week’s illness, says another key is something the Cougars failed at in their loss at Pepperdine last year — rebounding.
“That was a huge emphasis going into this game,” Emery said. “Once we rebound, we get easy points. We flow into the offense. It’s easier to score. That’s one thing we need to focus on. It’s a cool atmosphere right there on the beach and I love playing at Pepperdine. I think it’s a great experience.”
BYU first plays Pepperdine in Firestone Fieldhouse at 9 p.m. MST on Thursday, Feb. 9. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU. Then the Cougars travel to War Memorial Gym to take on San Francisco on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 9 p.m. MST.