PROVO — At least the BYU basketball team doesn't have much time to dwell on Saturday night's bitter defeat.
That's probably good news for the Cougars, who suffered a last-second 59-57 loss to San Diego State at the Marriott Center in both teams' Mountain West Conference opener.
Tonight at 7, BYU (5-10, 0-1) steps out of MWC play to entertain Division II opponent Montana State-Billings (8-4, 0-3) in the Cougars' final non-conference contest of the season.
"We're going to approach it like any other game," said forward Garner Meads. "We'll be ready to play."
BYU returns to MWC action with a road trip to Colorado State and Wyoming this weekend.
Last Saturday, SDSU's Chris Walton hit a dramatic, game-winning shot at the buzzer in what was one of Cougar coach Steve Cleveland's most disappointing losses in his eight seasons in Provo.
Once again, inconsistency plagued BYU. The Cougars, who squandered a nine-point halftime lead, shot just 35 percent from the floor and 15 percent (3-for-19) from 3-point range. Down the stretch, they had opportunities to win but made too many mistakes.
"We've got to play (today) and we've got to keep trying to get better," Cleveland said. "That's the only approach you can take. I wish there was some magic formula or potion we could sprinkle on us, but it doesn't exist. We have to fight through this."
As if the preseason wasn't difficult enough, now BYU finds itself in an early hole in conference action.
Despite the setback to the Aztecs, the Cougars say they can draw positives from it. Following a 16-4 second-half run, SDSU grabbed a six-point advantage over BYU. The Cougars responded by scoring nine straight points and retaking the lead.
"We're starting to learn that when we're down, we can come back," said guard Mike Hall, who scored a team-high 16 points. "Earlier in the season when we got down, we'd just quit."
"We battled. We competed. We played hard," said guard Austin Ainge. "We've got to keep building on those positives."
Said Meads: We didn't get too rattled. We've just got to find a way to win."
Montana State-Billings, a member of the Pacific West Conference, is coming off of three consecutive losses in the state of Hawaii, including a 90-58 loss to Chaminade, a team that BYU defeated in the Maui Invitational in November.
The Yellowjackets are led by senior forward Justin Hassell, who averages 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Cameron Munoz averages 17.4 points. Junior guard Buddy Windy Boy (15.8 ppg) shoots 49 percent from behind the 3-point arc, which ranks fifth in the nation among Division II teams. MSU-Billings averages 88.1 points per contest.
NOTES: Student-ticket distribution for the Jan. 31 BYU-Utah game will take place prior to tonight's contest. Distribution begins at 5 p.m. at the northeast entrance of the Marriott Center. The BYU-Utah game is a nationally televised ESPN Big Monday contest starting at 10 p.m. Students may pick up one ticket with a BYU All-Sport Card and may carry up to two All-Sport Cards. Any remaining student tickets not distributed Tuesday will be available to All-Sport Card holders at the BYU Ticket Office during regular business hours while supplies last. Students will not be able to attend the BYU-Utah game without obtaining a ticket.
Cougars on the air
Montana State-Billings (8-4) vs. BYU (5-10)
Today, 7 p.m.
Radio: KSL 1160AM