PROVO — Junior forward Kyle Davis is helping BYU play BYU basketball again.
A year ago, the Cougars found themselves with few interior scoring options. Davis wasn’t eligible due to NCAA transfer rules and forwards Nate Austin and Jamal Aytes were sidelined with injuries, leaving BYU thin in the paint.
This season, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Davis is providing BYU with a strong presence inside, which is an important aspect of coach Dave Rose's system. Davis is nearly averaging a double-double — 12.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
“Kyle has really changed our (approach) and got us back to where we feel more comfortable in how we play,” Rose said. “I loved our team last year because of how they competed. But it was uncomfortable at times because … we didn’t have a low-post scoring threat and Kyle brings that to us. He’s been a great rebounder for us. I think that for our staff, it’s allowed us to go back to our roots and play the game a lot more comfortably for us.”
Davis, a Utah State transfer who led Alta High to the 5A state title in 2010, likes the way he’s able to contribute.
“It feels really comfortable. It’s been great to be back playing after a long year sitting out,” Davis said. “I love the role I have on this team. I love playing with these guys. It’s a blast to show up and have Kyle Collinsworth as your point guard and have Chase (Fischer), who can shoot so well and Nick (Emery) and Zac (Seljaas) and everyone else. It’s a blast.”
Davis has six double-doubles this season and has scored in double figures in 16 of 17 games. In his Cougar debut in the season opener against Utah Valley last November, Davis grabbed 20 rebounds (a BYU record in a season opener) and scored 17 points.
When BYU visits No. 25 Gonzaga Thursday (7 p.m., MST, ESPN2), Davis will play a key role as he’ll help defend the Zags’ talented big men: 6-foot-10 forward Kyle Wiltjer and 6-foot-11 forward Domantas Sabonis.
Wiltjer is averaging 21.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while Sabonis is averaging 18.9 points and 11 boards.
“It’ll be a great challenge. It’ll be fun to play against two great players,” Davis said. “It will be a team effort. It won’t be one guy that has the responsibility of locking down either one. It’s going to require all of us to stop them because they’re scoring a ton of points. So we’ve got to stop them from dominating the glass, dominating down low and hopefully that will help us get a win there.”
REVISITING THE INTERRUPTION IN THE RIVALRY: A week ago, the big news was Utah’s decision to not play BYU next season in Provo in a series that’s been played for more than 100 years.
Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak answered questions Monday about the decision, reiterating that he’s concerned about players’ safety.
Rose was asked Tuesday if there was anything that Krystkowiak said Monday that he agreed or disagreed with.
“I probably agree with the fact that he doesn’t want the series,” Rose said.
“I think it’s been a really active week as far as talking about it,” he added. “I still feel pretty much the same as I felt when we talked last week. It’s disappointing.”
BYU players have offered little comment when asked about the status of the rivalry.
“I support Coach Rose and everything Coach Rose has said,” said guard Nick Emery. “It’s interesting, but I’m just focused on this year and when next year comes around, maybe we’ll talk about it. Right now, it’s about Gonzaga.”
ROSE ON RICE: Rose’s former associate head coach, Dave Rice, was fired Sunday in the middle of his fifth season as UNLV’s head coach.
“Dave and I have texted back and forth. I think there will be a time during this season where we can get together and maybe he can evaluate our team and help us,” Rose said. “I think he’s a great coach. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around as far as a basketball mind is concerned. I think sometimes in this business you might need a little more time. He just didn’t get that. I don’t know the situation but I felt bad for him. He’s a great coach and I’m sure he’ll land on his feet somewhere.”
TOOLSON UPDATE: BYU guard Jake Toolson, who took a leave of absence from the team for medical reasons in December, has returned to school as a part-time student, Rose said Tuesday.
Due to his status as a part-time student, the NCAA restricts Toolson from participating in team activities.
“He’s doing really well,” Rose said. “I’m happy for Jake and the progress that he’s made.”