BYU basketball is experiencing the most success right now in non-conference play since the 1987-88 Cougar squad led by Michael Smith and Jeff Chatman started out the season 17-0 and was as high as No. 2 in the AP Top 25 Poll. That team's streak ended at UAB with an 83-102 loss.
From that point on the team was up-and-down the rest of the way out and was eliminated on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Fast-forward to the 2008-2009 BYU squad that is currently 10-0 and has their toughest test of the season to this point coming up this Saturday in Arizona State at University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.
This game for BYU basketball is probably the biggest game for the program since the 2003 Oklahoma State matchup in the Delta Center, where Rafael Araujo poured in a career-high 32 points to lead BYU to a 76-71 win over the Cowboys, who eventually went to the Final Four that season.
The reason I point to that game is that both Oklahoma State and Arizona State were ranked, both BYU teams were streaking and had very talented teams, it was a neutral floor, and it was a chance for BYU to make a huge statement—to show the nation that BYU is the real deal this season and is a team that you should expect to see creating some havoc in March.
This Saturday's game will be a good measuring stick of where this team and program are at. There has been so many close calls against good teams since that Oklahoma State breakthrough that it's time for one of the big games to go in BYU's favor.
Arizona State is 8-1 right now and is currently ranked No. 18 in the Coaches Poll. They had a close call today on a neutral floor against IUPUI. Down by 16 at half, the Sun Devils found a way to eke out a 59-58 win in overtime over the Jaguars of Ooooie Poooie.
The Sun Devils also had struggles against a team BYU has struggled with the past few years in San Diego State. It was the second game of the season for ASU on CBS College Sports, and the Aztecs controlled most of the game until the final five minutes, where the Sun Devils hit three straight three-pointers to pull away and get a hard earned seven-point win.
From that game, I realized that ASU was a beatable team. They have a ton of talent in All-American candidate James Harden, Jeff Pendergraph at center, and Rihards Kuksiks at forward, but they are not the most efficient offense you have ever seen.
A team like BYU can score in bunches. ASU hasn't faced an offense like BYU's yet—the Cougars can score at will, and when they get on a roll, they are almost unstoppable.
The keys for BYU to win this game in my opinion will be the following.
In big games, BYU has been known for struggling out of the gates under Dave Rose, particularly the Texas A&M game in the tourney last season. If BYU can hit a couple of threes early out of the gate, BYU will be in good shape to win the game.
Shut down Pendergraph/Not allow second chances on boards
Jeff Pendergraph is probably the best center in the Pac-10 this season, and BYU's centers will be put to the test. They did a very good job against a mechanical Gary Wilkinson at Utah State, but Pendergraph has a lot more athleticism. Miles and MacGregor need to alter shots and make sure to lock up defensive rebounds. Offensive boards kept Utah State in the game in the first half at the ESA.
ASU is a team that will be a lot more at ease than USU was against BYU, so you have to figure ASU will capitalize at a higher ratio than the Aggies did when given opportunities.
Cummard needs to get back on track
Since the Utah State game, Cummard has been struggling to find his shot again. Cummard needs to have a big game, and if it's not on the offensive end, just doing the little things: boards, steals, and blocks, like he is so accustomed to doing.
Hopefully he can get his rhythm back in this one in front of his home crowd and find that rhythm he had against Long Beach State and Weber State.
It's an exciting time for Cougar Hoops—hope to see more and more people getting into it and going to the Marriott Center for home games. This team deserves your support, and some of the crowds this season have been pretty sad, to say the least.
The game this Saturday is on at 2:30 P.M. on FSN Arizona. So tune in for this big game!