Provo • When Mark Pope first took the head coaching job at BYU, he sat down for one-on-one interviews with the players. From his talk with Connor Harding, he remembers the sophomore emphasized just how much he wanted to win.
“His motivation, I think, is somewhere in there — about how much he loves this place, how much he wants to win and how much he cares about this program and these guys,” Pope said. “And he’s just willing to do whatever he has to do to help us win.”
Unlike last season, when Harding started in 14 of the 32 games, the sophomore guard has yet to get a start this season. But that hasn’t stopped him from being a spark for the Cougars off the bench.
And it usually starts with a three-pointer.
Against UNLV, Harding helped the Cougars start to pull away with back-to-back threes, and added a third one shortly after, to put BYU up 19-8. The Cougars went on to beat the Rebels by 33 points and Harding finished with 12 points.
Days later, against Nevada, Harding once again immediately scored twice — this time on a lay up and a three-pointer. And once again, BYU won by a 33-point margin. Harding scored 10 points.
Most recently, against Utah State in the final Beehive Classic, Harding cooled down, with only six points. But he still scored fairly soon after coming off the bench and gave the Cougars the lead with another three-pointer.
Grad transfer Jake Toolson said his teammate just does whatever the team needs and is capable of anything.
“He can defend, he brings energy, he makes open shots, he can put it on the ground, he can make plays,” Toolson said. “Somebody like that, with no agenda, is really important for a team because … I think it can be infectious when a guy like him is out there playing with no agenda other than just wanting to win and that can help other guys buy into that as well.”
But when it comes to a signature shot, it's definitely the corner three.
Even Harding agrees.
“I feel pretty confident in the corner,” Harding said. “I've put a lot of shots in the summer in the corner because I knew that last year, that's kind of where I was a lot on the floor. So, I spent some time and just made some corner threes this year.”
While Yoeli Childs leads the team in three-point shooting percentage with 66.7% on 6 of 9 shooting and Kolby Lee has made two of his four long-range attempts, Harding has the best percentage when it comes to consistent three-point shooters.
The sophomore has made 17 of his 35 attempts (48.6%) through the first 13 games of the season.
But Harding isn't a one-trick pony. He's able to give a 1-2 punch when needed.
When there's pressure on the corner three and Harding doesn't feel like he'd get a good look on the long shot, he instead runs along the baseline for a lay-up.
“You've got to be able to counter because teams scout you,” Harding said. “They know your strong points, they know where you shoot well, how you shoot it, when you shoot it. So, being able to beat the scout and help the team, that's the most important thing.”
With the way Harding has been playing, Pope said he could be playing 38 minutes for the Cougars, instead of the 23.8 he's averaging so far. The first-year coach has been impressed with the way Harding has been playing this season.
“He’s made a huge jump so far this season and he’s on trajectory to become a really, really special player,” Pope said.
BYU VS WEBER STATE
At the Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff » Saturday, 7 p.m. MT
TV » BYUtv
Radio » BYU Radio – Sirius XM 143/89.1 FM HD2; BYU Sports Network; KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM
Records » BYU 9-4; WSU 4-6
Series » BYU leads 33-11
Last meeting » WSU 113, BYU 103 (Dec. 1, 2018)
About BYU » The team is on a season-best, three-game winning streak, defeating UNLV, Nevada and Utah State. … Four players are averaging double-digit scoring: Yoeli Childs, 19.0; Jake Toolson, 14.5; TJ Haws, 12.7; and Alex Barcello, 10.5. ... Childs is also averaging a double-double, with 11.0 rebounds. … The Cougars are starting a three-game home stand.
About WSU » Team is coming off a dominating 109-62 win over Bethesda on Tuesday. … The Wildcats are led by Jerrick Harding, who is averaging 20 points per game this season. … The BYU game is the final non-conference game of the season for Weber State. … It is WSU’s fourth game against an in-state team this season.