Provo • Yoeli Childs could have taken it easy last summer. Coming off a sensational freshman season when he surpassed all expectations, BYU’s affable 6-foot-8 post player didn’t see it that way, however.
“I knew I had to get better,” he said. “I knew my game needed work.”
Knowing he would be an even bigger part of the Cougars’ plans in 2017-18 with the departure of fellow big man Eric Mika to the professional ranks, Childs spent countless hours in the Marriott Center Annex — BYU’s new practice facility — working on his outside shooting, his free-throw shooting and his ball-handling skills.
Sophomore slump? No way.
While other fast-starting Cougars have failed to replicate their freshman seasons, let alone improve on them, Childs’ numbers across the board have been better. He has bumped his scoring average from 9.3 to 17.7 and his rebounding average from 8.2 to 8.8. He’s blocking more shots and committing fewer fouls. His turnovers have risen slightly from 1.7 to 2.0, but he’s playing nearly 5 minutes more per game.
“I worked on a lot of things this summer, and continue to do a lot of skill work during the season, any chance I can get before practice, after practice, before lifting,” Childs said. “It is very important to work on your game throughout the season, not just in the offseason.”
Childs and fellow all-WCC candidate Elijah Bryant have each played 922 minutes this season while producing roughly the same scoring output. Childs had 20 points and Bryant 14 in an overtime win over San Francisco last Saturday. Both would be WCC Player of the Year candidates most years, but Jock Landale of Saint Mary’s has it wrapped up.
“I just want to do whatever it takes to get us wins,” Childs said. “If that means playing on the perimeter more, making plays for other guys on the team that is going to help us win games, that’s what I am going to do. If it means going at the rim and playing on attack, if that is going to help us win, that’s what I want to do.”
The Cougars will need more big games from Childs, Bryant and TJ Haws (12.5 ppg) as they embark on a three-game road trip this week. It begins Thursday at last-place Pepperdine, as the Cougars try to win at Firestone Fieldhouse for the first time since 2013
BYU coach Dave Rose said the Cougars — especially Childs and fellow big men Luke Worthington, Payton Dastrup and Dalton Nixon — have to avoid foul trouble to avoid getting upset again by the Waves, who announced Tuesday that seven-year coach Marty Wilson will finish this season but will not be back next year.
“We get in foul trouble all the time [at Pepperdine],” Rose said. “Why are we always in foul trouble? I don’t have an answer for that.”
In viewing Pepperdine’s last four wins over BYU at Firestone, Rose said the Cougars haven’t been solid defensively and have been too impatient offensively. That’s where Childs’ improvement will be beneficial.
“I think he has gotten way better with the ball in his hands, away from the basket,” Rose said. “That is something that he spent a lot of time on in the summer. I just think he is just growing with the game. Every game he plays, he sees a little more and understands a little bit more. I think his game just continues to get better and better.”
BYU AT PEPPERDINE
At Firestone Fieldhouse, Malibu, Calif.
Tipoff • 8 p.m. MST
TV • BYUtv
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 20-7, 9-5 WCC; Pepperdine 4-22, 1-13 WCC
Series history • BYU leads 12-9
About the Waves • Seventh-year coach Marty Wilson (86-123) will be released from his contract when their season concludes. … Sophomore F Kameron Edwards did not play in the 20-point loss to the Cougars in January due to a concussion but leads them in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding(6.2 rpg). … They have lost 64 player-games due to injury, including 32 by projected starters.
About the Cougars • They have lost four consecutive games on Pepperdine’s home floor, including a 99-83 setback last year. … Coach Dave Rose’s streak of 13 seasons with 20 or more wins, extended by Saturday’s 75-73 win over San Francisco in overtime, is tied for sixth all-time in NCAA history. It is the fifth-longest streak among active head coaches. … TJ Haws had a season-high 26 points and seven assists in the win over the Dons.