Brock Reichner walked through a portal to the floor of the Marriott Center prior to tipoff of the Cougars game with Liberty Thursday night. He was holding his daughter Annie.

Too bad it wasn't a basketball and he had another year of eligibility.

Reichner lives in Boise these days, working for a pharmaceutical company. At times early this BYU season, you wondered what the Cougars would be like if Reichner was back in uniform. Last year, from possession to possession, Reichner was a steady presence, the scoring and defensive glue that held Dave Rose's first team together en route to a 10-3 start at this same stage of the Cougar season.

Thursday, the Cougars cruised to an 8-4 mark, running past Liberty by 14 in the first round of the three-game Holiday Classic in the Marriott Center. Since the second half of the roadie at Lamar, the Cougars appear to have cranked up their act after a bumpy ride through a series of December road games, suitcase mileage situations that last year's squad didn't have to deal with.

It remains to be seen who BYU's 2006 Reichner will be. Keena Young (17 points) is the most likely candidate on offense. Sophomore Lee Cummard is pushing point guard Rashaun Broadus the man on defense.

If the Cougars are to challenge for a conference title, they'll need an identity. The best way to find it might be with defensive blood. Cummard could be the leading donor.

Since the Cougars starting defending and rebounding better, they've piled up some wins.

Cummard's an interesting case study. In high school, he tore everybody up offensively. He could take over games. At times he was unstoppable. Scouting services called him the best shooting guard in the West.

But in Cummard's freshman year as a Cougar, he struggled with his shot and when it came to matchups, Rose often switched him out for one of his more meaty body.

But this year, Cummard, still a serviceable outside shooter and lock on transition drives, has learned to be sneaky defensively.

His work against Utah State, helping to prevent the Aggies from making any 3-point shots in the game, got a "terrific' from Rose.

Cummard's got one of those eagle wing spans. When he's got his arms tucked at the waist or his chest, he looks vulnerable. But when Cummard stretches out tip to tip, his 6-foot-6 frame lengthens into a 6-8 player.

Team captain Austin Ainge is a basketball junkie. He's seen his share of NBA wingspans hanging around his father Danny, now personnel director for the Boston Celtics. Ainge likes Cummard's presence as an on-ball defender, and he's learned to slink his way past picks.

"Lee is so long and skinny, sometimes he gets nailed on screens," said Ainge. "He's doing a better job of avoiding those screens. I don't know if you can tell, but when he's on the ball, he is really long and when he's guarding you, you think he's far enough off for you to get off a shot, but he's right there to contest or tip it."

Ainge says Cummard reminds him of the Piston's Tayshaun Prince. "He's not the fastest or most athletic but that length can really bother shooters," said Ainge.

Cummard says he hasn't gotten any faster, although his legs are stronger than a year ago. "It's experience, it's paid off in the long run."

For Cummard, the experience has translated to better position, anticipation and drawing charges, as evidenced against Liberty.

The Cougars play Oral Roberts tonight at 7:30 p.m., in the second night of this Cougar Holiday Classic. After dispatching Liberty 73-59, BYU earned its 21st straight win on their home court.

It'll get tougher tonight and Saturday night against Seton Hall, but if they can go 2-0, they'll end 2006 with 10 wins.

And that'll be a good scratch towards finding an identity without Brock Reichner.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com