Lost in the hoopla over Senior Night on Saturday was the fact that BYU junior Brock Zylstra played the four position in Noah Hartsock's absence and played it quite well, scoring 20 points on 6 of 12 shooting. Zylstra was 4 of 8 from 3-point range. Zylstra has now played four positions this season, having started the first two games at point guard. His natural position is two-guard, and he's also played a little bit of small forward, out on the wing.
The former walk-on's challenge the rest of the season, and next year, will be to play as well against the league's upper echelon teams as he does against the cellar-dwellers. For instance, he was 0-for-5 in the loss at Gonzaga on Thursday and did not score.
He's the X-factor in many BYU games: when Zyltra plays well, the Cougars usually play well, and win. Same could be said for Charles Abouo.
"I don't know, I think sometimes we aren't as aggressive as we should be," Zylstra said. "I think Charles is amazing at attacking the basket and sometimes when I am not hitting shots I rely on shooting myself out of it, and don't try and attack the basket.
I think it is just us being more aggressive. It comes as a whole team as we are more aggressive and as we play hard and do what we are supposed to do, we usually come out with a win."
Zylstra also went 0-for-5 against St. Mary's when the Gaels whipped the Cougars in Provo, 80-66. He said Saturday that the Cougars desperately want another shot at the Gaels. But that will only happen if both teams get to the championship game, because they are on opposite sides of the bracket. If BYU wins Friday night against either Pepperdine or San Diego, it will likely play Gonzaga in the semifinals on Saturday.
"It would be awesome [to get another shot at SMC]," Zylstra said. "I mean, you lose twice to a team -- and not like it was a close game; it was some pretty big beatings, them on us. So we remember it and so we know that we can play with them, that we can beat them. So it is something that we are looking forward to, that if we play our game, that we can win."
Asked what BYU could have done different against St. Mary's, Zylstra said the Cougars weren't aggressive enough.
"I think offensively and defensively they had us on our heels, rather than the other way around -- which we usually do to other teams. That's usually our motive, is to put pressure on them offensively so they feel like they are retreating, and then defensively the same way. So I mean they are a great team. But we didn't do that as well as we would have liked. But they have great players, they play together as a team very well. So nothing taking away from them, but we just didn't do some things that we want to do next time we play them."
Here's my first look at the WCC tournament, published in today's Tribune. The men's and women's tournament schedules are also there.
If you missed our game story from the Portland-BYU affair on Saturday, here it is.
Here's my sidebar, with BYU players saying they believe they've done enough to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection.
The Tribune's Kurt Kragthorpe wrote this online-only column after Saturday's game.
A few more good comments from Zylstra in the postgame news conference:
On whether this has been a trying season due to injuries:
"Yeah, I think in the past, two years ago Tyler Haws got hurt in the tournament. The wear and tear on your bodies, I think it comes with playing hard and playing two games a week. But yeah, a big blow to us was Noah not being able to play the past two games.
But we're a tough team. We will fight through it and we got tough guys on our team that are going to play through injuries. We just want to win. I think everybody on the team just wants to win, and they will do anything they can so that we can accomplish that goal."
On how relieved he was to make shots:
"Two games ago, I think I hit two out of three. And then last game it was hard going again. The past few weeks, I haven't seen the ball go in the basket like I had previously in the season. It is good to see the ball go in. It just gives you confidence. Anybody that is in a little bit of a shooting slump is going to find confidence when the ball breaks that barrier and it is going through the net."
On what it will be like without Hartsock and Abouo next year:
"Thinking about these two guys, and what they have done for the program, you are talking about the winningest players in BYU history, these two guys are top three or top four. But they have had a huge impact on BYU basketball.
It is sad to see them go, but when you think about everything that they've done, it is a proud moment for them, and a proud moment for their teammates, that we have played with them and so it is going to be weird suiting up next year and not having these guys suiting up with us. But we will remember how hard they played, and we will try to portray that in the next years to come."
On how much better the team is with Noah Hartsock in the lineup:
"I think about the times when we have lulls offensively and miss him. Noah is Mr. Reliability. He will give us a shot, he will give us a bucket when we need it. So that is a big help for us when we haven't scored for two minutes, three minutes, whatever it might be.
We know we can get the ball and he will put it in the basket. It is an amazing fall-back plan for us, and anytime in a game we can go to him, and he will make a basket for us."
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