LARAMIE, Wyo. — Confidence is a fragile state of the mind.

You can get it, hold it, lose it, regain it and it's often a mystery just how it operates and lives in our heads.

Take Mark Bigelow on Saturday at Wyoming. The guy has struggled to shoot with any consistency this season. But in Laramie, he was on fire, scoring 21 points with ease. He had his stroke back. Bigelow found his mojo.

Confidence. Ever since MWC play started, the Cougars haven't had it too often. Utah and Air Force have. Kevin Woodberry wishes he had it; Utah's Nick Jacobson never lost it.

Confidence. Shooters need it. The past 48 hours, BYU head coach Steve Cleveland's been preaching his team to get it.

In BYU's 67-53 win over Wyoming on Saturday, Bigelow made 7-of-12 shots, 4 of 7 from beyond the arc. He silenced the biggest crowd of the season in the Arena Auditorium. He was in total control.

Why?

"I got sick of missing," Bigelow said. "That's basically it."

Before Laramie, Bigelow's MWC 3-point numbers read like this: 2 for 7, 0-3, 2-5, 1-3, 1-4, 3-5 and 0 for 8 last week against San Diego State and UNLV.

"I was confident," Bigelow said after BYU's win over Wyoming.

Now, admittedly, this Cowboy team is struggling and isn't that good. But you take gifts labeled confidence in any wrapping you can.

On Friday, Cleveland got into the confidence business. However, it was a balancing act. On one hand, Cleveland wants his shooters to be left alone to sort out their demons, not feeling pressure or stress. But on the other hand, he called players out during a shootaround in the Arena Auditorium when they were hoisting up bricks.

"We couldn't make one shot," Cleveland said. "I finally just stopped practice and I just started yelling at them. I said: 'What is wrong with you?' "

Cleveland then had almost every one on the squad make three straight 3-pointers before they left the building.

Not a stressful way to make a point? Yet, a situation you can't ignore as a coach?

Cleveland explains: "First of all, this game is about believing in yourself. And believing that you are a good shooting team. I said, 'If you're going to have negative thoughts creep in when you are shooting the ball, then don't shoot it.'

"I said, 'Just believe in yourselves; believe that you can shoot that ball.' I think the key, when you go on the road is you have to shoot 3s. If you go on the road and you pass up 3s when you are open, then you are playing right into their hands. And you have to take open shots and we got that because opponents are double- and triple-teaming (Rafael Araujo).

"You have to make the shots from the perimeter on the road to win. You don't have to make all of them but you have to make enough to keep them honest."

So, Cleveland got lucky on Saturday.

Somehow, some way, he got confidence to ooze out from somewhere, and Bigelow caught some of it.

It's kind of like putting in golf. Confidence is huge.

"It's like you are five feet away from the defense instead of two," Bigelow said.

Confidence. It's one of those on the edge deals.

Take Cleveland, for instance. You could say he's been stressed out the past month. He's been hip-deep in coach sickness, a worry-wart malaise.

Steve Cleveland never wanted his BYU team to be the MWC favorite. He hates the idea of having a target on his players' backs. He abhors being picked to be the top dog. He'd rather be in charge of a pack of mangy mutts that no one gives a hoot about. That way he can sneak up and take a bite out of foes.

Back in January, his team probably thought too highly of itself. Until the Cougars got to North Carolina State. The supposed greyhounds got their nails trimmed.

Perhaps that's why he's so stressed this past month. As MWC frontrunners, his team didn't respond to the target vest early at San Diego State, New Mexico, Air Force and Utah. In fact, it simply choked.

The Cougars got to 2-4 in league play quicker than you could say Mountain West. A year ago, it was just the opposite. BYU was picked in the middle and used a late-season run and five road victories to get a piece of the league championship.

Today, Cleveland shucks off trying to be philosophical and he doesn't want to overplay the stress level he feels in balancing his role as nursemaid, psychologist and Master and Commander.

"I just want these guys to go out and play; just win," Cleveland said. "We're 3-0, and we need to get that run to 4-0. That's all."

Bigelow, however, echoed a mantra the squad and coaches talk about behind the scenes. It's full of sports clichs: "We dug ourselves a hole," "Our backs are to the wall" and "We have to win."

Desperation?

Can desperation inspire confidence?

That's a tough call. In desperation, some putters get the yipes.

On Saturday in Laramie, some guys made plays.

Perhaps Cleveland finally got the sense of urgency, the fear, the desperation in his players' eyes he's been seeking all along.

In some corners of terra, he could have got all that with a putter whack against some shins.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com