Provo • BYU's first basketball game this season, against Utah State last November in the Spectrum, was an absolute disaster as far as ball-handling was concerned. Without a true point guard, the Cougars committed 20 turnovers, had just 16 assists and watched the Aggies take the ball away from them six times.
But look at them now.
BYU leads the country in assists, recording 343 in 18 games for an average of 19.1 per game. Not coincidentally, former BYU assistant coach Dave Rice's UNLV Rebels are second in the country in assists, with 338.
Shooting guard Brock Zylstra, who began the season at point guard before Craig Cusick, Anson Winder and Matt Carlino (when he became eligible on Dec. 17) took over the position, said it is ironic that the Cougars (14-4) now have the best assist-turnover ratio in the country.
"It is [ironic], because we didn't know what was going on at the beginning of the year. I think even coach [Dave Rose] will say we didn't know who was going to play the point, who was going to play the wing spots. It is ironic now that we have found ourselves, and Matt is doing a great job and the whole team as a whole is passing the ball real well right now."
The Cougars were at their best in the assist department in Saturday's 81-56 win over San Francisco, assisting on 27 of 29 baskets.
"I think we rely a lot on more than just our point guard to assist [on baskets]," Rose said. "I think as a staff we are pleased with the progress we have made in that area. But you can always get better. One more pass, an extra pass, has been the theme, the motto of our program since we started, and I think this group is kind of catching on."
And passing on, too.
Because Saturday's 6 p.m. MST game against Santa Clara at the Marriott Center to be televised by ESPNU is their only game this week, the Cougars have taken some time off this week while several coaches were out recruiting. Rose said they practiced Monday, took Tuesday off, practiced Wednesday and then put in the game plan for Santa Clara during Thursday's practice.
"It seems like it has been a long time since we played," Rose said. "It is really interesting how it works. It seems like those games come right on top of each other, and then when we have a day or two off, it kind of stretches things out a bit."
Beginning Saturday against the Broncos, who played Thursday night against San Diego, the Cougars will play three times in the next seven days.
"It feels like we haven't played in a month," said Zylstra. "It will be good to get back into it."
Zylstra has made six straight 3-pointers, while Cusick has made six of his past seven 3-point attempts. â¦ The Cougars are 15-5 all-time against Santa Clara. â¦ The Broncos feature the WCC's leading scorer, 6-foot-2 guard Kevin Foster (17.5 ppg.).
Santa Clara at BYU
Saturday, 6 p.m. MST
TV • ESPNU