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Can Cougars finally win a conference road game?

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SAN DIEGO — Will it be "one for the road" for the BYU basketball team?

That's the overriding question as the Cougars — 12-4 overall and 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference — play their first road league game Monday night against San Diego State University (11-4, 2-0). Tipoff at Cox Arena is 8 p.m. MST.

You know the Cougars — invincible at home, all but invisible on the road now for a season and a half.

All this road-woe talk as turned coach Steve Cleveland rather feisty. "We don't need to focus on that," he said in a testy tone following BYU's 85-77 league-opening win Thursday against UNLV. "The bottom line is, I just want this team to get better."

And no better time for the Cougars to get a much-needed road victory — and a league one at that — than Monday night against the Aztecs.

That's because BYU returns to the Marriott Center — site of a 44-game home winning streak — for a three-game homestand.

Said BYU senior guard Travis Hansen: "I'm tired of losing on the road. It takes playing tough and putting at team away. Monday would be a good time to do it."

Starry-eyed BYU fans may think the planets are aligned for the Cougars to finally break their road jinx. The game's in the same city where BYU claimed its only road win of the 2001-02 season.

They also point to Thursday's triumph as providing both momentum and plenty of time to rest and prep for SDSU, which was pressed to a down-to-the-wire 58-56 win Saturday against Utah.

However, naysayers expecting the Cougars to remain in their road-weary rut have just as much ammunition — last season's victory in San Diego came against the University of San Diego, not SDSU; BYU has not won a conference road game since a 51-50 victory at Air Force in March 2001; and after snapping its 11-loss road skid in December by winning at Arizona State, BYU has dropped four straight games played away from Provo.

Also, hand-wringers can say momentum is as much with the Aztecs, who not only posted their first victory over Utah in 15 tries but have won nine of their last 10 games.

With its other MWC victory coming at Air Force, SDSU is off to its best start in six seasons, building upon the success of its winning the conference's post-season tournament and automatic NCAA berth.

Senior Mike Mackell leads with a 15.6 scoring average, with Tony Bland second at 14.9 and both Evan Burns and Deandre Moore less than a bucket's margin below double-digit points.

Hansen leads BYU in scoring with a 15.6 per-game scoring average, followed by swingman Mark Bigelow at 12.7. Junior center Rafael Araujo adds 12.1 points a game and is averaging a MWC-best 9.3 rebounding average, just recently replacing SDSU's Aerick Sanders (8.3) as the conference leader.

NOTES: BYU leads the overall series with SDSU at 35-15, but the Aztecs have defeated the Cougars the last two times, including last year's opening-round meeting in the MWC tournament . . . BYU had won eight straight over San Diego State prior to the two losses . . . BYU is a perfect 4-0 in Mountain West Conference openers.

BYU Cougars (12-4, 1-0 MWC)

Probable starters

Name Ht. Yr. PPG

F Mark Bigelow 6-7 Jr. 12.7

F Jared Jensen 6-9 So. 8.3

C Rafael Araujo 6-11 Jr. 12.1

G Travis Hansen 6-6 Sr. 15.6

G Terry Nashif 5-10 So. 2.7

SDSU Aztecs (11-4, 2-0 MWC)

Probable starters

Name Ht. Yr. PPG

F A. Sanders 6-8 Jr. 6.3

C Mike Mackell 6-9 Sr. 15.6

G Travis Hanour 6-7 So. 4.8

G Tony Bland 6-5 Sr. 14.9

G D. Moore 5-10 Sr. 8.3

Monday, 8 p.m. MST

Cox Arena at Aztec Bowl (12,414)

TV: KSL, Ch. 5, in Utah

Radio: KSL 1160-AM

E-MAIL: taylor@desnews.com