BYU Hosts South Carolina State Saturday

PROVO -- Off to its best start in seven years, BYU will attempt to improve its record to 7-1 when it hosts South Carolina State in the Marriott Center Saturday at 7 p.m. The game will be televised by SportsWest Productions and broadcast on KSL-TV, channel 5, with KSL sports anchor Tom Kirkland providing the play-by-play and former Utah Jazz forward Thurl Bailey adding commentary. KSL Newsradio 1160 will provide the radio broadcast, with Greg Wrubell and Mark Durrant starting the pre-game show at 6:30 p.m. After Saturday's game, the Cougars will depart for a pre-Christmas road trip to South Alabama on Dec. 21 and Florida International on Dec. 23.

Satuday is KSL Family Night

The entire family can come and see the Cougars play South Carolina State Saturday for only $11.60 as part of KSL Family Night. KSL Family Night tickets are available at the Marriott Center ticket office or by calling 801-378-BYU1.

Quick Facts

BYU's Probable Starters

F • 25 • Eric Nielsen • 6-8 • 210 • So. • 5.6/4.1

F • 15 • Mekeli Wesley • 6-9 • 230 • Jr. • 21.4/6.1

G • 24 • Terrell Lyday • 6-3 • 190 • Jr. • 14.6/3.4

G • 31 • Matt Montague • 6-1 • 190 • So. • 2.6/3.3

G • 13 • Michael Vranes • 6-3 • 190 • So. • 8.7/4.1

South Carolina State's Probable Starters F • 23 • Dexter Hall • 6-8 • 190 • Jr.

F • 53 • Arthur Carlisle • 6-5 • 230 • Sr.

C • 31 • Duane Johnson • 6-11 • 225 • Sr.

G • 3 • Mike Wiatre • 6-0 • 180 • Sr.

G • 33 • James Jones • 6-6 • 180 • Sr.

Coach Cleveland

"South Carolina State won their league last year and has all five starters returning and three other letterman. They are picked to win the conference again this year and are coming into this week's road trip having won at Clemson. Any team that can go into an ACC gym and come away with a win is a tough team. They are an extremely athletic team. We will certainly need to be at our best on Saturday."

BYU Head Coach: Steve Cleveland

Record at BYU: 27-38 (3rd year)

Overall Div. I record: Same

SCSU Head Coach: Cy Alexander

Record at SCSU: 203-146 (12 years)

Overall record: Same

Series Record: First Meeting

Game Time: 7 p.m. Mountain

Broadcast Plans

Television:

Network: SportsWest Productions

Air Time: 7 p.m. Mountain

Play-by-play: Tom Kirkland

Commentary: Thurl Bailey

Radio:

Network: KSL Newsradio 1160 AM

Air Time: 6:30 p.m. Mountain

Play-by-play: Greg Wrubell

Commentary: Mark Durrant

BYU Record

Overall: 6-1 H: 5-0 A: 1-1

Scouting South Carolina State

South Carolina State is making its first trip to Provo Saturday as the third of a three-game road trip against Mountain West Conference opponents. Coming off a road win at Clemson (71-68) of the ACC, the Bulldogs play Air Force Tuesday and San Diego State Thursday before arriving in Provo. Although South Carolina State is 2-4 entering the week, the Bulldogs are picked to repeat as this year's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. In addition to its win at Clemson, South Carolina State defeated Central Florida (71-70) and has losses to Oregon State (92-57), Furman (77-58), Coppin State (68-53), and Mississippi State (88-58). Coach Cy Alexander returns all five starters and eight letterman from last year's 17-12 team that went 14-4 in the MEAC and earned a tie for first place. The Bulldogs have placed first or second in the MEAC in each of the last seven years and played in the NCAA Tournament in 1998 and 1996. They also qualified for the NCAAs in 1989. Mike Wiatre (6-0 guard) leads the team with a 16.5 point average after six games. Fellow guard James Jones (6-6) adds 11.3 ppg and five rebounds. Center Duane Johnson (6-11) scores 7.8 ppg and pulls down a team-leading 6.5 rebounds while Arthur Carlisle(6-5) contributes seven points from his forward spot. As a team, the Bulldogs have struggled with their shooting this year, shooting 32.9 percent from the floor and 65.6 percent from the line. They have connected on 30 of 112 three-point attempts for a 26.8 average. They average 61.3 points per game while giving up 77.2.

Series Notes

This will be first meeting between the two teams.

Mekeli Wesley

Mekeli is off to the best start in his career, having scored 24 points or more in five of seven games. He leads the MWC in scoring and is 21st nationally at 21.4 ppg. He averaged 21 points and nine rebounds last week to earn MWC Player of the Week honors for the second time in his career (earned WAC honor as a freshman). After averaging three rebounds per game in first three contests, has pulled down 8.5 boards per game in last four. He recorded his first double-double of the year (fourth of career) with 24 points and 10 rebounds in win over Texas Southern.He was named the Cougar Classic MVP Saturday for the second time in his career (also as freshman). He had 12 points and eight rebounds against Weber State. Wesley has scored a season-high 26 points in back-to-back games this year versus Denver and Arizona State. As a freshman he scored 31 points on two occasions. After seven games this year he is averaging a 21.4 ppg while shooting 57 percent (FGs), 36 percent (3FGs) and 82 percent (FTs). He also averages a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game.

Terrell Lyday

Lyday joins Wesley at the only Cougars to score in double figures in each game this year. He also joined Wesley on the Cougar Classic All-Tournament team. He is showing why he was recruited by Coach Steve Cleveland out of Fresno City College last year to help replace some of the production lost by the LDS Church mission departure of freshman sensation Mark Bigelow. Last year Bigelow averaged 15 points per game to lead the Cougars. Lyday is averaging 14.6 points per contest while playing a team-high 32.4 minutes per game. He scored a personal BYU best 18 points against Arizona and had 17 vs. ASU. He has made a team-high 12 three pointers (37.5 percent). Last year he made more than 100 treys for Fresno City College.

Silester Rivers

Rivers has been slowed with an ankle injury this year, but is a significant contributor off the bench. He is second on the team with 4.7 rebounds and its tops with 14 offensive boards. He is making a team-best 58 percent of his field goal attempts while averaging 7.7 points in 16.9 minutes. He averaged 5.3 points last week, including 10 against ASU.

Michael Vranes

Vranes had a solid week with eight points and six rebounds vs. ASU, five points and six assists vs. Texas Southern and a team- and season-high 15 points along with five rebounds vs. Weber State. He is second on the team with 3.1 assists per game from his shooting guard spot (averaged 2.9 assists last year as point guard). He is also getting to the glass with 4.1 rebounds per game. He is third on the team in scoring at 8.7 ppg and is shooting a team-best 52.4 percent on threes (11-21). Vranes has made a three-pointer in every game but Denver (0-2) and Texas Southern (0-2). He has scored in double figures twice (13 vs. SUU, 15 vs. Weber State).

Eric Nielsen

Nielsen has been relied upon heavily this year after returning from his LDS Church mission to Russia. Nielsen is is averaging 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 26 minutes per game. He makes 51.7 percent of his attempts. After scoring in double figures in the first two games (10, 12) he has not reached double digits in the past five outings. He scored 2.3 ppg last week and averaged 4.6 rebounds. Against Weber State, he grabbed a season-high six boards after totalling five on three other occasions this year.

Matt Montague

Montague received five rough stitches above his left eye during Tuesday's ASU game and another 15 after the game to repair a three centimeter cut to the bone after falling hard to the floor. After getting his stitches against ASU, Montague led BYU a BYU run to put the game away. The only true point guard on the BYU roster, Montague is playing 28 minutes per game. He has a team-leading 36 assists (5.1 apg) and has gone to the boards strong (3.3 rpg). He as taken 19 shots on the year to average 2.6 ppg. He made his lone three-pointer of the year against Texas Southern to break the half time tie and give the Cougars a lead they never relinquished. He dished out a season-high nine assists vs. Weber State Saturday while holding Wildcat point guard Eddie Gill to 2-14 shooting.

Nathan Cooper

Cooper is coming off the bench this year after starting in 23 of BYU's 28 games last year. He scored a season and team-high 15 points against Weber State Saturday, the third time he has reached double figures this year but the first time in the last five games. He is scoring 8.6 points while also adding 3.6 rebounds in 19.4 minutes. He is making 46 percent of his shots and has made 21 of 24 free throws (.875)-- tops on the team. He didn't make a three pointer in the first five games but went 3-5 last week at the Cougar Classic. He and Michael Vranes are the only Cougars to have fouled out of a game this year (Cooper at Arizona).

Todd Christensen

Christensen is sharing point guard duties with Matt Montague after playing shooting guard most of last year. He had a season-high 10 points against Denver. Last week he averaged six points per game, including a nine point outing against Texas Southern when he scored eight in the second half to help BYU pull away. Regarded as the best shooter on the team, Christensen has made 11-22 attempts (.500) and is 7-18 from behind the arc (.389). Christensen is averaging 4.9 points and one rebound in 15 minutes. He has six turnovers and four assists.

Coach Cleveland Shows

Radio: Coach Steve Cleveland can be heard Tuesday from 7-8 p.m. this week with host Greg Wrubell on KSL Newsradio 1160.

Television: The Coach Cleveland Show can be viewed each Sunday at 5 p.m. on KSL-TV, channel 5 with host Alema Harrington.

Cougar Start among Best in Past 15 Years

BYU is off to its best start in seven years and one of its best in the last 15 years. The Cougars boast a 6-1 record for the first time since 1992-93 when the Cougars opened the year with a 7-1 record. BYU also started 7-1 in 1991-92 and 1989-90 and improved to 9-1 in each of those seasons. This year's team can equal the 7-1 starts with a win Saturday against South Carolina State and then has a chance to better the mark with five non-league games remaining before the Mountain West Conference season. In 1992-93, BYU also played Arizona State, Weber State and Southern Utah in its first seven games of the year - defeating ASU (108-98), losing to Weber State (83-77 in overtime) and beating Southern Utah (108-62). The Cougars, however, lost their next three games in 1992-93 to fall to 7-4 before conference play started. BYU's best start was a 17-0 beginning to the 1987-88 season that had the Cougars -- ranked No. 2 and coming off an 82-64 win over Utah -- poised to overtake the No. 1 spot in the nation before an upset loss at Alabama Birmingham. BYU went on to finish 26-6 in 1987-88; 21-9 in 1989-90; 25-7 in 1991-92; and 25-9 in 1992-93 -- each year earning an NCAA Tournament berth.

Steaks

BYU has won four straight games for the first time under Steve Cleveland and the first time since a four-game streak in the 1995-96 season. BYU had one five game streak and one seven game streak during the 1994-95 season. BYU is also a perfect 5-0 at home this year and has won six consecutive times at home including last year's regular season-ending win over UTEP (85-64). All five wins have been by double-digit margins.

Injury Update

Freshman 7-0 center Dan Howard will be out for at least the next two weeks with after having some particles removed from under his right knee cap last week. Howard, who was scoped just before the Arizona State game, could possible become a medical redshirt pending his recovery from the surgery. He had played in BYU's first four games and was 3-3 (1.5 ppg) and averaged 2 rebounds in 4.8 minutes. Matt Montague and Eric Nielsen have both received stitches this year from cuts to their heads but neither has missed significant time because of the injuries. Silester Rivers continues to work his way into better game shape after missing practice time with an ankle injury to begin the year.

No Buzzer Beaters

The Cougars have yet to need a buzzer beater in any of its first seven contests. The Cougars average margin of victory is 13.6 points and its only loss to No. 3-ranked Arizona was by 24 points. While several games have remained close throughout the first half and into the second (including Arizona), BYU has been able to pull away as all six Cougar wins have been double-figure margins and three being by more than 20 points (29, 28, 23). It's closest game was an 11-point win over Arizona State.

For Starters

Last year, BYU coach Steve Cleveland used six different starting lineups over the first seven games because of injuries and while trying to find the right combinations with a group of players who had just come together. This year, Cleveland is expected to go with the same starting lineup for the eighth straight game Saturday. This year the Cougars have a core nucleus of players returning for the first time since Cleveland took over the job three years ago. The players and coaching staff were also able to gain practice and game experience together during a summer trip to Europe in August.

A Look at Last Week

BYU went 3-0 last week with home wins over Arizona State (78-67), Texas Southern (76-61) and Weber State (66-53). The Cougars improved their record to 6-1 overall and 5-0 in the Marriott Center. With its wins over Texas Southern and Weber State, BYU won its third Cougar Classic title in as many years under Coach Steve Cleveland and the 17th BYU title in the 26 years of the Classic. Mekeli Wesley was named the Classic MVP while Terrell Lyday joined him on the all-tournament team. Wesley was honored for his play in BYU's three wins last week by being named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week. The Cougars victory over Arizona State was their first Pac-10 win in the last 10 tries and the first for Coach Steve Cleveland. The Cougars had played eight Pac-10 teams in Cleveland's first two years and No. 3 Arizona this year.

Last year at this time . . .

BYU's record was 2-5

This Year... 6-1

BYU's FG percentage was .443

This Year ... .492

BYU's 3FG percentage was .339

This Year... .380

BYU's FT percentage was .666

This Year... .734

BYU was averaging (points) 70.0

This Year... 78.0

BYU was averaging (rebounds) 35.6

This Year... 37.3

BYU was averaging (assists) 10.3

This Year... 16.1

BYU was averaging (turnovers) 20.3

This Year... 13.9

BYU was averaging (steals) 8.0

This Year... 7.0

BYU had used (starting lineups) 6

This Year... 1

BYU's record when . . .

BYU leads at half 5-0

Opponent leads at half 0-1

Score tied at half 1-0

BYU leads with 5 minutes left 6-0

Opponent leads with 5 min. left 0-1

BYU leads with 1 minute left 6-0

Opponent leads with 1 min. left 0-1

Score tied with 1 minute left 0-0

Game goes into overtime 0-0

BYU out rebounds opponent 6-0

Opponent out rebounds BYU 0-1

BYU and opponent tie in rebounds 0-0

BYU shoots 50 % or better 4-0

Opponent shoots 50 % or better 0-1

BYU out shoots opponent 6-0