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Provo • BYU forward Noah Hartsock, who has seemingly never said a negative thing about anyone in his life, delivered a great backhanded compliment to backup center Nate Austin on Wednesday night after the freshman from Lone Peak High School scored a career-high 15 points in the 94-66 win over Weber State.
"I remember during the summer, I mean, it was kind of, 'this guy looks like, you know, a very good redshirt candidate,' " Hartsock said, referring to how Austin looked a few months after returning from an LDS Church mission to McAllen, Texas.
With the 7-2 Cougars preparing to face rival Utah on Saturday at the Huntsman Center, the 6-foot-11 Austin is suddenly pushing junior center Brandon Davies for playing time. Austin has scored 35 points off the bench in BYU's last three games.
"I think that's what we kind of missed last year, is not having another big guy step in and play some minutes and score some points," Hartsock said. "You know, he's done a great job, and I expect he's going to continue to do that."
Coach Dave Rose said he expects Austin's emergence to push Davies to work even harder. Davies had 11 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes Wednesday while again battling foul trouble.
" We have some great guys coming off the bench in Stephen Rogers and Craig Cusick and Nate Austin," Rose said. "Those three keep pushing the starters; I think that everybody wants to play. That's the name of the game. Hopefully we continue to compete, so that we can get better."
Austin's arrival is just what BYU needed inside, as its depth there was starting to thin. Another returned missionary, Ian Harward, will redshirt this year, the Cougars announced last week; and Chris Collinsworth could be out for quite a while due to knee soreness and exploratory surgery to determine the cause.
"I think Nate Austin has been terrific the last three games, and his confidence and ability to go in and make shots, and obviously Stephen [Rogers] has been good since we put him in that sixth man role, to come in and score," Rose said.
It's still Utah
Although Utah is having its worst season in decades and not much of a threat to beat the Cougars on Saturday at the Huntsman Center, Rose is still treating the game a bit differently than the usual December, nonconference game.
Rose has closed Friday's practice to the media, and interviews will be held before practice instead of afterward, which is usually the case.
Against Weber State, six BYU players scored in double figures for the first time since a win over Fresno Pacific in 2010. ... The Cougars blocked nine shots against WSU, a season-high, including seven in the first half. ... The Cougars scored 47 points in the first half vs. WSU, their highest first-half total of the season.
BYU at Utah
P Saturday, noon
TV • Fox Sports Network