The BYU basketball team, which has already played five quality opponents this season, may have an easy game or two this year.
But not tonight.The Cougars hosts a talented group of Bulldogs from Mississippi State at 7:30 p.m. in the Marriott Center. The game will be broadcast live on both KSL TV (Channel 5) and KSL Radio (1160 AM) and on tape delay by KBYU (Channel 11).
"Mississippi State will be one of the better teams that visits the Marriott Center this year, as far as I am concerned," BYU coach Roger Reid said.
The 3-2 Cougars somehow managed to stay in the CNN/USA Today Top 25 (at No. 24) this week despite losing to Utah State by 24 points on Thursday.
Mississippi State is 3-0 and also ranked No. 24 - in Sport Illustrated's preseason Top 25. The Bulldogs return virtually the same team that went 18-11 last season and beat eventual national champion Arkansas in a Southeastern Conference game and gained an NIT berth.
Four of the five Bulldog starters from last season's team are back including 6-11 center Erick Dampier, the SEC's Freshman of the Year. Forward Marcus Grant, a 6-6 forward, is averaging 13 points per game this year, while off guard Darryl Wilson set a school record for 3-pointers made last season .
BYU, meantime, broke a two-game losing streak with its tougher-than-the-score-indicates, 96-80, win over Nevada in the home opener Saturday night. Kenneth Roberts, BYU's undersized center, led the way with 28 points. Roberts, the Bingham High product, is now leading the team with a 15.2 scoring average.
"I admire Ken," Reid said. "He's 6-6 playing center against much bigger people. I marvel at what he is able to do. The last two games he has picked it up right where he was at the end of last season."
Russell Larson, BYU's returning all-WAC forward, has struggled a bit - especially with foul trouble. BYU's 6-11 star sat out 17 minutes of the first half against Nevada with two fouls. He fouled out with nearly six minutes to play in BYU's loss to Minnesota.
"We can't have Russell sitting out of games in foul trouble," Reid said. "He needs to play hard and play smart. A lot of his fouls have been when a guy beats him and he reaches to try to stop the guy."
Despite the foul trouble, Larson leads the team in rebounding (6.4 average) and is averaging just under 15 points per game.
This weekend BYU will host the four-team Cougar Classic. BYU will face Southern Utah Friday night and either Northwestern State or South Alabama Saturday.