BYU Takes Road Trip to South Alabama and Florida International

PROVO -- After completing its four-game home stand 4-0 to improve to 7-1 on the year, BYU takes its second road trip of the year to face two schools from the Sun Belt Conference. The Cougars play South Alabama in Mobile Tuesday at 6 p.m. Mountain before playing Florida International Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Mountain. Both games will be broadcast on KSL Newsradio 1160, with Greg Wrubell calling the play-by-play action and Mark Durrant providing color commentary. After Thursday's game, the Cougars will return home for Christmas before taking a single-game road trip to play UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 29.

Quick Facts:

BYU (7-1) at South Alabama (2-5)

Tuesday, Dec. 21 • Mitchell Center(10,000) • Mobile, Ala. • 6 p.m. Mountain

BYU's Probable Starters

F • 25 • Eric Nielsen • 6-8 • 210 • So. • 5.1/4.1

F • 15 • Mekeli Wesley • 6-9 • 230 • Jr. • 19.6/ 6.2

G • 24 • Terrell Lyday • 6-3 • 190 • Jr. • 13.9/3.4

G • 31 • Matt Montague • 6-1 • 190 • So. • 2.9/3.4

G • 13 • Michael Vranes • 6-3 • 190 • So. • 8.9/4.4

South Alabama's Probable Starters

F • 32 • Dusty Dubbs • 6-4 • 195 • Sr. • 6.7/4.7

F • 40 • Reggie York • 6-6 • 210 • Jr. • 8.7/4.9

C • 55 • Virgil Stanescu • 6-10 • 240 • Jr. • 12.4/6.0

G • 11 • Demetrice Williams • 6-1 • 165 • Fr. • 9.9/2.3

G • 22 • Ravonte Dantzler • 6-2 • 205 • Jr. • 11.0/2.6

BYU Head Coach: Steve Cleveland

Record at BYU: 28-38 (3rd year)

Overall Div. I record: Same

S. Alabama Head Coach: Bob Weltlich

Record at S.Alabama: 34-28 (3rd year)

Overall record: 253-298

Series Record: First Meeting

Game Time: 6 p.m. Mountain

Broadcast Plans

Radio:

Network: KSL Newsradio 1160 AM

Air Time: 5:30 p.m. Mountain

Play-by-play: Greg Wrubell

Commentary: Mark Durrant

Scouting South Alabama

South Alabama is 2-5 on the year and coming off a home loss to Murray State (59-54). The Jaguars have had close games as five of the team's seven games have come down to single-digit differences. The Jaguars opened the year with a loss at Bradley (68-59) before winning their home opener against Alabama State (77-59). South Alabama then suffered a three-game losing skid with a tough two-point loss at Wright State (66-64) followed by a home loss to Southern Mississippi (62-47) and a road loss at Alabama-Birmingham (91-86). The Jaguars earned their first road win with a one-point victory over Stephen F. Austin (85-84) before its loss to Murray State. Coach Bob Weltlich is 34-28 in his third year at South Alabama and returns two starters and four lettermen from last year's 11-16 team. This year's squad is led by junior center Virgil Stanescu who averages 12.4 points and 6.0 rebounds and is one of two players to start every game along with senior forward Dusty Dubbs, who adds 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 26.7 minutes of action. Junior guard Ravonte Dantzler also averages double figures with an 11.0 scoring average. He shoots 50 percent from the floor and 31.3 percent on three-pointers. Junior forward Reggie York leads the team in field goal percentage, making 70 percent of his 41 attempts in seven games. He is, however, only shooting 27 percent (3-11) from the free throw line. Freshman guard Demetrice Williams adds 9.9 points in a team-high 27.6 minutes per game and is shooting 43 percent on treys (9-21). As a team, South Alabama shoots 45.8 percent from the floor, 31.4 on threes and 57.9 from the free throw line. The Jaguars are being out rebounded 33.1 to 30.6 and are averaging 17.9 turnovers to 13.6 assists per game.

Series Notes

This will be first meeting between the two teams. BYU defeated the Sun Belt Conference's Denver Pioneers earlier this year.

Team Travel Plans

The Cougars fly out of Salt Lake City Sunday afternoon to Mobile, Ala. After Tuesday's game with South Alabama, the Cougars will fly from Mobile to Miami Wednesday to prepare for its matchup with Florida International on Thursday. The team will then fly back to Salt Lake City Friday and arrive in the early afternoon. The Cougars will have time off for Christmas before preparing for its next game against UC Santa Barbara. The team will leave Dec. 28 for California to meet UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 29.

A Look at Last Week

Todd Christensen and Silester Rivers came off the bench to lead BYU to a 76-43 win over South Carolina State Saturday at the Marriott Center. Rivers contributed a game- and season-high 17 points while Christensen added a season-high 16 points on 5-8 three-point shooting and a free throw. Eleven players scored for BYU and 13 saw playing time in the game. BYU's bench put 43 points through the net compared to 33 points contributed by BYU's starters. Michael Vranes led the starters with 10 points while BYU's top two scorers on the season, Wesley and Lyday, added seven and nine points respectively. The Bulldogs out rebounded BYU 45-41 on the night but shot only 22 percent from the floor while BYU made nearly 52 percent and dished out a season-best 23 assists.

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 7-1 record for the first time since 1992-93. In 1992-93, BYU also had Arizona State, Weber State and Southern Utah in its first eight 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 also started 7-1 in 1991-92 and 1989-90 and improved to 9-1 in each of those seasons. A win against South Alabama would give the Cougars its best start since 1991-92. 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.

In the Zone

BYU has shot better than 50 percent from the floor in five of its eight games this year. The Cougars topped the 60 percent mark against UC Riverside in the season opener and most recently made 51.8 percent of their attempts versus South Carolina State. BYU has shot below 40 percent only once this year -- 36.5 percent in its lone loss at nationally ranked Arizona. BYU is shooting just under 50 percent on the year (.495) while making 39.3 percent of its three-point attempts.

Tough Defense

While the Cougar offense has been productive, BYU's defense has been the key to the team's overall success. In all seven BYU wins, the Cougars have held the opposition below 40 percent shooting. Only Arizona was able to get on track offensively (.544 from the floor) but only after the Cougars kept them mostly in check for the first 30 minutes. BYU opponents are shooting 35.5 percent collectively on the year and are being out rebounded by the Cougars, 37.8 to 34.9.

Turning Over a New Leaf

Last year BYU averaged 17.3 turnovers per game to only 12.8 assists. This year's team has nearly reversed the trend, dishing out 17 assists per game while turning the ball over 13.5 times per contest. The Cougars had a season-high 23 assists Saturday against South Carolina State, surpassing last year's best-effort of 21 in the WAC Tournament upset of TCU. It is the highest assist total since the Cougars handed out 26 assists in a blowout win over Morgan State during the 1995-96 season. The Cougars committed 11 turnovers, its second-best effort of the year, against South Carolina State, only one off BYU's season-low last year of 10 against Fresno State. The Cougars had a season-best seven turnovers against Denver, its lowest total since 1996-97 (vs. SMU).

Injury Update

Freshman 7-0 center Dan Howard will likely take a medical redshirt season after having his right knee scoped on Dec. 7. Howard played in BYU's first four games and was 3-3 (1.5 ppg) and averaged 2 rebounds in 4.8 minutes.

Streaks

BYU has won five straight games for the first time under Steve Cleveland and the first time since BYU had a five-game streak during the 1994-95 season. In 1994-95, BYU also had a seven-game streak, which BYU could match with two wins this week. BYU is also a perfect 6-0 at home this year and has won seven consecutive times at home including last year's regular season-ending win over UTEP (85-64). All seven wins have been by double-digit margins. BYU has a one-game road win streak after defeating Denver of the Sun Belt Conference in its last road game Dec. 4.

No Buzzer Beaters

The Cougars have yet to need a buzzer beater in any of its first eight contests. The Cougars' average margin of victory is 16 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 seven Cougar wins have been double-figure margins. Three were by more than 20 points (29, 28, 23) and Saturday's win over South Carolina State was by 33 points -- the Cougars' largest margin of victory since a 32-point win over Morgan State in 1995. The closest final tally thus far was an 11-point BYU 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 has gone with the same lineup in each game as 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.

Mekeli Wesley

Mekeli is off to the best start in his career, having scored 24 points or more in five of eight games. He is averaging a team-leading 19.6 ppg and 6.2 rebounds per game. He averaged 21 points and nine rebounds to earn MWC Player of the Week honors (Dec. 7-11) and was named the Cougar Classic MVP for the second time in his career (also as freshman). After averaging three rebounds per game in first three contests, he has pulled down 8.2 boards per game in last five. He recorded his first double-double of the year (fourth of career) with 24 points and 10 rebounds in win over Texas Southern. He 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 19.6 ppg while shooting 57 percent (FGs), 36 percent (3FGs) and 80 percent (FTs).

Terrell Lyday

Lyday scored nine points against South Carolina State Saturday -- the first time he hasn't reached double figures this year. He joined Wesley on the Cougar Classic All-Tournament team Dec. 10-11 and 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 13.9 points per contest while playing a team-high 31.8 minutes per game. He scored a personal BYU best 18 points against Arizona and had 17 vs. ASU. He has made a team-high 13 three pointers (37.1 percent). Last year he made more than 100 treys for Fresno City College.

Silester Rivers

Rivers scored game- and season-high 17 points Saturday against South Carolina State. Coming off the bench this year, he is tied for third in scoring at 8.9 ppg and is second on the team with 4.6 rebounds and tops with 16 offensive boards. He is making a team-best 61.5 percent of his field goal attempts while taking nearly five shots per game in 17.2 minutes. He has scored in double figures four times this year and has led the team in rebounds twice (6 vs. UC Riverside and 9 at Denver).

Michael Vranes

Vranes had 10 points, six rebounds and a season-high seven assists vs. South Carolina State Saturday. He scored a season-high 15 points along with five rebounds vs. Weber State. He is second on the team with 3.6 assists per game from his shooting guard spot (he averaged 2.9 assists last year as the point guard). He is also getting to the glass with 4.4 rebounds per game. He is tied for third on the team in scoring at 8.9 ppg and is shooting a team-best 47.8 percent on threes (11-23). Vranes has made a three-pointer five of eight games this year. He has scored in double figures three times, including the last two straight games.

Eric Nielsen

Nielsen has been relied upon heavily this year after returning from his LDS Church mission to Russia. Nielsen is is averaging 5.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. He makes 51.6 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 six outings. He scored two points on 1-2 shooting and grabbed four rebounds in 20 minutes vs. South Carolina State. He grabbed a season-high six boards against Weber State after totalling five on three other occasions this year.

Matt Montague

Montague matched his season high with five points vs. South Carolina State and made his second three-pointer of the year (2-6 on the season). After receiving stitches to repair a three centimeter cut above his eye against ASU, Montague returned and led BYU on a 14-1 run. The only true point guard on the BYU roster, Montague plays 27 minutes per game. He has a team-leading 39 assists (4.9 apg) and has gone to the boards strong (3.4 rpg). He is averaging 2.9 ppg. He made a three-pointer 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 and helped hold Wildcat 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 five points and season-high four assists vs. South Carolina State. He scored a season and team-high 15 points against Weber State, the third time he has reached double figures. He is averaging 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 18.9 minutes. He is making 45 percent of his shots and has made 23 of 26 free throws (.885 -- 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 and 1-2 vs. SCSU. He and 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 16 points, including 5-8 threes, vs. South Carolina State. Scored 10 at Denver and nine against Texas Southern. Regarded as the best shooter on the team, Christensen has made 16-30 attempts (.533) with all but four attempts coming from behind the arc (12-26, .462). Christensen averages 6.2 points in 15 minutes. He has six turnovers and six assists.

Comparing Statistics

BYU USA

SCORING

Points per game .77.8 67.4

Scoring margin + 16.0 - 2.5

SHOOTING PERCENTAGES

Field goals .495 .458

3-pointers .393 .314

Free throws .718 .579

REBOUNDING

Rebounds per game .37.8 .30.6

Rebounding margin + 2.9 - 2.5

ASSISTS

Assists per game 17.0 13.6

TURNOVERS

Turnovers per game 13.5 17.9

Turnover margin + 1.5 - 2.4

BLOCKS

Blocks per game 2.0 2.4

STEALS

Steals per game 6.6 9.9

Brigham Young (as of Dec 19, 1999)

All games

RECORD: OVERALL HOME AWAY NEUTRAL

ALL GAMES........... (7-1) (6-0) (1-1) (0-0)

CONFERENCE.......... (0-0) (0-0) (0-0) (0-0)

NON-CONFERENCE...... (7-1) (6-0) (1-1) (0-0)

Brigham Young Overall Team Statistics (as of Dec 19, 1999)

All games

TEAM STATISTICS BYU OPP

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SCORING.................. 622 494

Points per game........ 77.8 61.8

Scoring margin......... +16.0 -

FIELD GOALS-ATT.......... 214-432 171-482

Field goal pct......... .495 .355

3 POINT FG-ATT........... 46-117 41-139

3-point FG pct......... .393 .295

3-pt FG made per game.. 5.8 5.1

FREE THROWS-ATT.......... 148-206 111-162

Free throw pct......... .718 .685

REBOUNDS................. 302 279

Rebounds per game...... 37.8 34.9

Rebounding margin...... +2.9 -

ASSISTS.................. 136 101

Assists per game....... 17.0 12.6

TURNOVERS................ 108 120

Turnovers per game..... 13.5 15.0

Turnover margin........ +1.5 -

Assist/turnover ratio.. 1.3 0.8

STEALS................... 53 50

Steals per game........ 6.6 6.2

BLOCKS................... 16 16

Blocks per game........ 2.0 2.0

WINNING STREAK........... 5 -

Home win streak........ 6 -

ATTENDANCE............... 41918 15852

Home games-Avg/Game.... 6-6986 2-7926

Neutral site-Avg/Game.. - 0-0

SCORE BY PERIODS: 1st 2nd Total

------------------------------ ---- ---- ----

Brigham Young................. 292 330 - 622

Opponents..................... 231 263 - 494