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Cougars seek to lasso Cowboys

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OKLAHOMA CITY — As you watch today's BYU-Oklahoma State basketball game on ESPN2, think of what the matchup might be like a little closer to home — like a televised contest between the two in Salt Lake City's Delta Center.

That's the plan for next year, says BYU athletic director Val Hale. "It's getting harder and harder to get teams to come for home games, but they'll agree to neutral sites," he said.

Today's game is part of an ESPN-coordinated "Touchstone Energy All-College Classic" doubleheader played neither on the Oklahoma State nor Oklahoma campuses but at the 17,908-seat Ford Center in Oklahoma City.

In a pairing of two teams receiving votes in Top 25 polls, 10-2 BYU meets 9-1 OSU in Saturday's opener, broadcast on ESPN2 at 4:30 p.m. MST. And in the ESPN evening encore game, No. 10 Oklahoma takes on No. 14 Michigan State.

Next year, BYU is scheduled to make its regular-season debut at the Delta Center, as the Cowboys return the favor of visiting Utah. The Cougars have played at the Delta Center previously, when the Western Athletic Conference's postseason tournament was hosted at the home of the NBA's Utah Jazz.

Salt Lake City is nothing new to the Cougars, who play annually at the University of Utah — but the Huntsman Center is obviously a hostile venue with no hint of a homecourt-like edge. Hale said BYU is looking forward to playing the Delta Center game, hoping it is embraced by Cougar fans in Salt Lake and Davis counties.

He added that he didn't have any takers when Utah, Utah State and Weber State were contacted about the possibility of participating in a Delta Center doubleheader. So for now, BYU and Oklahoma State will go at it alone, with the hopes of a network such as ESPN televising the game and possibly serving as a catalyst to create a two-game package.

Officially, the game is considered a neutral-site contest. But the Cougars expect a road-like crowd, OSU's Stillwater campus less than a 90-minute drive from Oklahoma City.

BYU has already played in three neutral-site games this season, opening the season by sweeping the Paradise Jam tournament at the University of the Virgin Islands. The Cougars are 1-2 in road games on an opponents' home court — winning at Arizona State while suffering losses at Creighton and San Francisco.

And Oklahoma State has played only one true road contest 10 games into the 2002-03 season — a 68-58 victory at Wichita State. Like the Cougars, the Cowboys have played three neutral-site games — all at the Great Alaska Shootout. It was there where OSU defeated tournament host Alaska-Anchorage, suffered its sole loss of the season to the College of Charleston and then edged nationally ranked Michigan State.

BYU and Oklahoma State haven't meet in eight seasons, ironically on another neutral court as the Cougars downed the Cowboys 69-59 at the 1994 Great Alaska Shootout. BYU leads the overall series 3-2.

A 23-9 NCAA Tournament team a year ago, Oklahoma State is coached by Eddie Sutton, who has amassed more than 700 victories in 33 seasons. The Cowboys boast a trio of seasoned upperclass guards in Tony Allen, Melvin Sanders and Victor Williams — all of which average between 12 and 15 points per game. Junior forward Ivan McFarlin adds another 11.9 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds a contest.

Leading BYU is senior guard Travis Hansen, averaging 15.6 points a game, with junior forward Mark Bigelow adding 12.9. Junior center Rafael Araujo's numbers for the season are 10.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, but they jump to 20 and 12 over the past three games.

OSU last played Monday — a resounding 71-45 romp at home against Arkansas. Meanwhile, BYU will be playing for the second time in less than 48 hours following Thursday night's 84-68 victory over Pepperdine at the Marriott Center.

The short turn-around time between games has BYU coach Steve Cleveland concerned, as does the Cowboys' success as a defense-oriented, rebounding-strong squad.

"They're a Top 25 team — I think their early loss is the only thing that has kept them out of it," he said. "I don't understand why they're not in the Top 25."

Cougs vs. Cowboys

BYU (10-2) vs. Oklahoma State (9-1)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. MST

Ford Center, Oklahoma City

TV: ESPN2 Radio: KSL 1160AM

E-mail: taylor@desnews.com