After being absent from campus for a week, the BYU Cougars return to the Marriott Center this weekend to host their annual Cougar Classic.
The Cougars, 5-1, played Nov. 30 at Utah State, then took a flight out the following day to play (and lose to) Penn State. Next was a flight directly to Arizona State, where they shaded the Sun Devils 65-64 Tuesday night.This year's Classic has a decent field for the Cougars to contend with. BYU plays North Texas Friday at 7:30 p.m. with Georgia Southern and Alabama-Birmingham meeting at 5:30 p.m. The weakling of the bunch is North Texas State, an 0-6 team that appeared in the Cougar Classic in 1980. That year BYU won 108-92. The Mean Green have struggled this year, playing without star Lonnie Morgan, the 6-8, 255-pound Southland Conference freshman of the year last season. But Morgan missed part of last year due to academic woes and hasn't played this year thanks to high blood pressure. He isn't expected to be in the lineup this weekend, either.
North Texas has dropped games to Southern Methodist, Oklahoma State, San Diego, Texas-San Antonio, Texas Southern and Baylor.
Top scorer is 6-5 forward Chris Chavers, averaging 10.6 points.
Meanwhile, BYU is off to a fast start under first-year Coach Roger Reid. Surprisingly, the Cougars, who play without a legitimate center, have out-rebounded five of their six opponents. Not coincidentally, they won every game they had a rebounding advantage.
Although the Cougars were picked to finish sixth in the WAC in the preseason media poll, Reid says his running start isn't a surprise to him. "You go in it expecting to win every game," says Reid. "I don't know if I expected to be 1-5 or 5-1. I expected to be 6-0 right now."
The Cougars have been led by guard Marty Haws and forward Andy Toolson. But they have also had steady play from junior college transfer Todd Crow and freshmen Todd Gentry and Mark Durrant. Reid, however, says his team has far to go before it is ready for WAC play in January.
"I think we just need to clean up a lot on offense and defense and execute better," says Reid. "It's still early and we're just trying to have a pretty good basketball team."
Though BYU shouldn't have trouble with North Texas, winning the championship will be a more difficult assignment. Georgia Southern is 2-0, with wins over Augustana (94-87) and Lamar (66-65). Although star center Jeff Sanders is gone, having been drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bulls, the Eagles have replaced him with 7-0 Emmitt Smith, who averaged 24 points in his first two games. He also had 15 rebounds against Lamar.
The other Classic invitee is Alabama-Birmingham, 3-1. The Cougars are 1-1 against UAB, having beaten the Blazers in the first round of the NCAA tourney in 1984 (84-68) and losing 102-83 in 1988 in a regular-season game. That year UAB win ended a 17-game Cougar win streak and kept the Cougars from being voted No. 1 in the Top 20 polls.
UAB, which has four players averaging in double figures, is coming off a 79-69 win over Oregon Tuesday night. The Blazers lost to Kansas in the preseason NIT, but have victories over Alcorn State, Auburn and Oregon.