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Although they won't play, injured seniors Kyle Davis and L.J. Rose will travel to the Pacific Northwest with the BYU basketball team this weekend to offer leadership and moral support.
Taking the former captains on the trip says a lot about what coach Dave Rose thinks of his sputtering squad as it embarks on the final two games of a regular season wrecked by injuries and inconsistent play.
The Cougars (19-10, 10-6) can clinch the No. 3 seed for next week's West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas if they can beat last-place Portland (10-19, 2-14) at 8 p.m. MST Thursday at Chiles Center. But that task may be much more difficult than it appears. For starters, BYU might be without starting freshman forward Yoeli Childs, who sprained his left ankle in the 70-57 loss at Saint Mary's last Saturday and didn't practice Monday or Tuesday.
Also, Portland likely will be a more confident team, after snapping a 14-game losing streak with a 38-point win over Walla Walla University, an NAIA school, on Monday and having nearly knocked off BYU in the Marriott Center on Feb. 4. Portland had a late six-point advantage before falling 73-62. And the Pilots upset BYU 84-81 last year at Chiles two days after the Cougars stunned Gonzaga in the Kennel.
"That's the only [thing] I remember," BYU's Nick Emery said. "They play tough there. There are a lot of BYU fans that come out to the Portland game, and the [Pilots] feed off that. They play hard. They lost one of their best players [Alec Wintering], and so I think that motivates all the other guys to play hard. It is going to be a battle on Thursday, but we are going to be ready."
The problem is, the Cougars don't look ready.
"The spirit of our guys needs to be way better than it was today," Rose said after Tuesday's practice at the Marriott Center.
BYU's bench has scored 12 points in four games since starting point guard Rose had knee surgery and Elijah Bryant was moved into a starting role.
"I just think that this group needs to find a core, kind of a leadership group, that can step up and bring them back to a real positive spot," coach Rose said. "And hopefully we can [find that] in a day or two."
A turnaround probably starts with Emery, who had just four points on 2-for-10 shooting against the Gaels after dropping 26 on San Diego on 8-for-12 shooting two nights before that. The sophomore said the team remains united, despite five losses in its past 11 games.
"This is one of the most closeknit teams I have ever played with," Emery said. "We have each others' backs. We are in it for each other. I think almost all of us are disappointed in the way we've played, personally. I think we can do a lot better, and there are areas where we can do a lot better."
Rose discounted the notion that divisions could arise as the losses pile up and expectations aren't met.
"I have never been concerned about this group kind of splintering off because they get along really well," he said. "They pull for each other. I think that the feel of this team is not so much about competition as it is about togetherness. And sometimes that may hurt us a little bit in some areas.
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BYU at Portland
P At Chiles Center, Portland
Tipoff • 8 p.m. MST
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 19-10, 10-6 WCC; Portland 10-19, 2-14 WCC
Series history • BYU leads 15-2
Last meeting • BYU won 73-62 (Feb. 4, 2017)
About the Pilots • They defeated Walla Walla 96-58 on Monday to snap a 14-game losing streak after opening league play with two wins. … With all-conference player Alec Wintering having suffered a season-ending knee injury, they are led in scoring by Jazz Johnson (15.8 ppg.) and in rebounding by Gabe Taylor (5.6 rpg.). … Former NBA player and coach Terry Porter is in his first season at the helm.
About the Cougars • They can clinch the No. 3 seed for the WCC tournament with a season sweep of the Pilots. … Their bench has combined to score just six points in the last three games. … They have won six of the past seven matchups with Portland but have lost two of the past three at Chiles Center. … Yoeli Childs had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the Feb. 4 win over Portland in Provo, but he is questionable with a sprained left ankle.