BYU basketball: Cougars open key stretch against Oregon
College basketball • Upcoming quality foes may yield clue to rest of season.
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Provo • The first semester at BYU is ending, but the taxing tests continue for its basketball team, starting Saturday afternoon.

When the Cougars play Oregon at EnergySolutions Arena, they begin a portion of their schedule that could tell them much about the direction of the season.

Is BYU a top-25 team?

Will the Cougars challenge Gonzaga and St. Marys in their first-ever journey through the West Coast Conference? Is another trip to the NCAA Tournament waiting?

During the next two weeks, BYU starts to answer those questions in games against an emerging Pac-12 team in Oregon, Big Sky Conference favorite Weber State, rival Utah and eighth-ranked Baylor.

Excluding the struggling Utes, the Ducks, Wildcats and Bears own a combined record of 15-2.

"It's a really important stretch for our team," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "These games will be a barometer for us."

The good news, according to Rose, is all four games will be played in Utah.

"It's when you are flying across the country and trying to manage their academics this late in the semester that things are really difficult," he said.

For BYU, the game in Salt Lake has become a featured stop of the season. With the Marriott Center booked for the annual "Christmas Around the World" celebration, the Cougars again play a game in the home of the Utah Jazz.

"Our guys really enjoy it and I think our fans enjoy it — it's worked out well," Rose said. "It has a different feel than a normal college game, when you play in an NBA arena. Our guys are usually pretty excited to play this game."

Oregon is coached by Dana Altman, now in his second season after spending 16 years at Creighton.

The Ducks finished 21-18 in Altman's first year, including a victory in the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament. They were picked fifth in the Pac-12 preseason poll.

"They are very athletic — a transition team," Rose said. "They really like to get the ball up and down the floor, so it should be an exciting game.

"Their post players are long, athletic and very active and they have great shooters on the perimeter. … It should be a really good matchup."

luhm@sltrib.com —

BYU vs. Oregon

P At EnergySolutions Arena

Tipoff • Saturday, 3 p.m.

TV • ESPNU

Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

Records • BYU, 5-2; Oregon, 4-1

All-time series • Oregon leads 12-7

Last meeting • Oregon, 93-62 (Dec. 5, 1998)

About the Cougars • They come off an 87-52 win over Northern Arizona. … Junior swingman Brock Zylstra scored a career-high 23 points and made a career-high five 3-pointers against the Lumberjacks. … Their top scorers are senior forwards Noah Hartsock (16.0) and Charles Abouo (12.7).

About the Ducks • After a 78-64 loss at Vanderbilt, they responded by beating Eastern Washington (73-65), Southeast Missouri (86-61), Nebraska (83-76) and UTEP (64-59). … They are led by junior forward Ed Singler (12.0) and senior guard Garrett Sim (11.6).