BYU Cougars haven’t missed a beat under new coach Mark Pope

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars guard Jake Toolson (5) maneuvers around UNLV Rebels forward Nick Blair (20) as BYU takes on UNLV in men's NCAA basketball at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Sat. Dec. 7, 2019.

Moraga, Calif. • Often when a team has a coaching change, it sees a dip in offensive production, sometimes even needing a season or two to adjust to the new coach and system.

That hasn’t been the case for BYU.

Mark Pope was named the new men’s basketball coach last April after Dave Rose announced his retirement. Rose led the Cougars for 14 years. After inheriting a 9-21 team, Rose immediately posted a 20-9 record — the first of 11 straight 20-win seasons.

Now, Pope has taken over right where Rose left off, not even missing a beat. The Cougars are making their first West Coast Conference road trip to play at Saint Mary’s Thursday having won their last six games.

The first-year coach believes a few different reasons play a part in the team's success so far this season.

“They were so incredibly well-coached and educated by coach Rose and his staff that they have a vast basketball vocabulary,” Pope said. “So, there's not a lot of new things that they're completely unfamiliar with. The second reason is because we have such good leadership and veteran guys that have been around. And the third thing is, my assistants are so good. You put those things together and it gives us a chance to be competitive.”

But the Cougars have done more than just win — they’re also ranked among the top 20 nationally in multiple offensive statistical categories. BYU excels in field goal percentage (12th), 3-point field goal percentage (8th), 3-point field goals per game (15th), assists per game (9th) and assist-turnover ratio (10th).

The standout of all those offensive highlights? The Cougars’ long-range shooting. It seems like everyone on this roster can shoot the 3.

Connor Harding's signature shot is the corner 3. Alex Barcello usually opens up games with a 3.

When Zac Seljaas comes in off the bench, he tends to attempt more 3s than 2-point field goals.

After sitting out the first nine games of the season, Yoeli Childs’first points came off back-to-back 3s. TJ Haws hit a last-second, game-winning 3 to beat Houston on the road earlier this season.

Jake Toolson can't get enough 3s.

Even big-man Kolby Lee has managed to sink a couple of 3s.

It's become a big part of the Cougars' identity.

And, of course, it’s thanks at least in part to the emphasis Pope made on shooting during the offseason.

Seljaas said Pope stressed during the offseason that the Cougars needed to own their shots. No matter what, when they shoot the ball, they have to own it and know it’s a great shot for them. Even when shots aren’t falling, they have to keep shooting.

“You just have to stay confident in yourself,” Seljaas said. “Just go on to the next play knowing that not every shot is going to go in, but you've just got to shoot it every time.”

The mentality has helped.

Last season, the Cougars shot 33% from the 3 and no player reached 40% 3FG shooting.

This season, eight players have attempted more than 10 3-pointers. Toolson leads the charge with 88 attempts, but Haws isn’t that far behind with 85. And of those eight consistent 3-point shooters, five are shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc.

The ability to have multiple players that can shoot the 3 is a huge advantage.

“Space is just such a big deal in this game,” Pope said. “It's so huge.”

Now that the Cougars have started the WCC portion of their schedule, it may come down to 3-point shooting with the way the top half of the conference is stacked up with Gonzaga, Pacific, Santa Clara and Saint Mary's.

But even if shots get sticky or the team starts to struggle, the goal is to keep moving forward.

“We’ve just got to keep learning from each game — learning and growing each day,” Seljaas said. “As the day moves on, you’ve got to learn from what you’re doing defensively and just keep taking steps forward and to make sure it’s progress. And not retreating back, not doing the same things you were doing last game — just keep moving forward.”


At University Credit Union Pavilion, Moraga, Calif.

Tipoff » Thursday, 9 p.m. MT


Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius 143

Records » BYU 12-4 (1-0 WCC); SMU 14-3 (1-1 WCC)

Series » tied 14-14

Last meeting » BYU 71, SMU 66 (Jan. 24, 2019)

About BYU » The Cougars are coming off a 63-38 West Coast Conference-opening win against Loyola Marymount. … It was the third time the Cougars have allowed 50 points or fewer in a game this season and the 38 points are the fewest allowed in any game. … Senior guard Jake Toolson leads BYU in 3-point field goal percentage (44.3), 3-pointers made (39) and 3-pointers attempted (88). … Senior guard TJ Haws has had five-plus assists in six-straight games.

About Saint Mary’s » The Gaels split the series against the Cougars last season, each winning their respective home game. … Senior guard Jordan Ford leads SMU in scoring, averaging 21.6 points per game while redshirt junior forward Malik Fitts cleans up the glass, averaging 8.0 rebounds a game. … The Gaels are coming off a quadruple overtime loss at Pacific, 107-99.