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BYU basketball: Cougars facing huge week

Wyoming point guard JayDee Luster, left, manages to get off a shot after colliding with BYU forward Chris Miles during the game Saturday at Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, Wyo
Wyoming point guard JayDee Luster, left, manages to get off a shot after colliding with BYU forward Chris Miles during the game Saturday at Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, Wyo
Andy Carpenean, Associated Press

PROVO — With perhaps the biggest week of the regular season ahead, the BYU Cougars are not nervous, stressed or feeling pressure.

The way the Cougars look at it, having your destiny in your own hands with only four regular-season games remaining — and while carrying a No. 11/No. 13 national ranking, the school's best-record ever after 28 games, and looking at a potential high seed into the NCAA Tournament — is a pretty good spot to be in.

"This is how it's supposed to be, this is what we want it to be, so now let's just take advantage of that opportunity," coach Dave Rose said after Monday's practice.

If the Cougars (25-3, 10-2) can get past San Diego State on Wednesday when the Aztecs come a calling to the Marriott Center, the Cougars would likely then be playing for sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference and a Top 10 ranking on Saturday when No. 10 New Mexico (25-3, 11-2) comes to town.

"We're playing two teams that have had great seasons also, so we're going to have to be at our best," Rose said.

But, as the Cougars know, the first task at hand is getting past a San Diego State team that has won six of seven, with the only loss in that stretch coming in overtime to New Mexico in Albuquerque. The Aztecs (9-4 in conference) can still catch BYU and New Mexico in the MWC standings, and are considered a team on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

"I think San Diego State is as good as any team in this league," junior Jackson Emery said. "And if you overlook a team, any team is capable of surprising you and there goes your hopes of winning a championship. So we just have to take it one game at a time."

The Cougars are addressing this key stretch with that one-game-at-a-time mentality. Not only have the coaches reminded the players of the importance of not looking past Wednesday's game, the players are reminding each other of how they've been successful this season by not getting ahead of themselves.

"We've done a really good job of keeping it one game at a time, and it shows because we haven't really slipped up on any teams that maybe we shouldn't have lost to," junior guard Jimmer Fredette said.

Beyond this week, the Cougars still have a tough road game next Wednesday at Utah before finishing the regular season off at TCU. Two wins this week would certainly go a long ways to grabbing a fourth-straight regular-season title, but they wouldn't guarantee anything.

"This group has a lot of basketball left in front of them," Rose said. "But what we've done to this point they should be proud of themselves, as far as their individual preparation and then being able to go out and execute a game plan."

Large crowds are expected for both of this week's critical contests. Saturday's game is already a sell-out, and Wednesday's game against San Diego State will be close to a packed house. And even though 20,000-plus screaming fans in the Marriott Center should aid the Cougars, they recognize they can't rely solely on the comforts of home — where they've won 20 straight and 75 of the past 77 games.

"Right now it's important to win games because you want to have your confidence at an all-time high, not just individual player's confidence, but where the players have confidence in each other. And I think the best way to do that is not by watching film, and not by breaking things down and not by practicing, but by winning games," Rose said.

COUGARS UP THREE SPOTS IN BOTH POLLS: In the new men's college basketball polls released Monday morning, the BYU Cougars are ranked No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and No. 13 in the AP poll — up three spots from where they were ranked in both polls last week.

In the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, the Cougars received 430 points, 17 points better than New Mexico, which holds down the 12th spot. BYU is the highest ranked team in the West in the coaches' poll.

In the AP poll, the Cougars received 795 points and are only one point ahead of Michigan State. Ranked No. 10 in the AP is New Mexico, which makes the Lobos the highest ranked team in the West in the AP poll.

The Cougars and Lobos, both 25-3, meet on Saturday in the Marriott Center. Right now both teams are tied atop the Mountain West Conference standings with two losses, but the Lobos have 11 conference wins to 10 for BYU. Prior to Saturday's showdown, however, the Cougars take on the San Diego State Aztecs, winners of six of their last seven, on Wednesday night at the Marriott Center.

The Cougars' 25-3 record is the school's best-ever mark after 28 games. The Cougars broke into the national rankings on Jan. 4, and were ranked as high as No. 10 in the coaches' poll and No. 12 in the AP poll on Jan. 25.

JIMMER HONORED AGAIN: For the fifth time this season and seventh time in his career, BYU junior guard Jimmer Fredette was named Monday as the Mountain West Conference player of the week. In the MWC's 11-year history, no player has received the honor more than five times in a season.

In wins last week over Colorado State and Wyoming, Fredette scored 36 points and 22 points, respectively. For the week, Fredette averaged 29 points, five assists and three rebounds. He made 19-of-36 shots, hit 9-of-16 3-pointers and sank 11-of-12 free throws.

e-mail: jimr@desnews.com