Provo • BYU can shoot — there’s no question about it.
It has led the Cougars to a four-game winning streak after defeating Portland on the road and San Francisco at home this week.
But where there is some concern is on the other side of the ball, as was shown Saturday against the Dons.
When USF cut the Cougars’ 25-point lead to 7, on a pair of free throws by Trevante Anderson, it was reminiscent of the past couple of times BYU played USF. The Cougars surrendered 14-point leads in both of the past two games against their West Coast Conference rival, which resulted in losses.
However, BYU was able to readjust and went on to force two USF turnovers and outscored the Dons 8-1 in the last 2 ½ minutes.
After the game, BYU coach Mark Pope said he thought his Cougars “played 25 minutes of extraordinary basketball, 25 minutes of high, high, high-level basketball on both ends of the floor.”
But now he's getting to the point where he's greedy.
“I want us to play 40 minutes and I think this team can do it, and I think we can do it against really great teams,” Pope said. “And you do it by doing it. You don’t do it by doing it for 25 minutes — you don’t. We held them to 30 points for 25 minutes and then gave up 46 points in 15 minutes.”
During the first half, BYU got USF to commit 12 turnovers, which were converted into 19 points for the Cougars. The Dons were also only allowed to score 25 points going into halftime.
However, in the second half, USF did a better job of protecting the ball — giving up only four more turnovers — and scored more than twice as many points.
If the Cougars can play strong defense for the full 40 minutes, and continue with their sharp shooting, they can close out the regular season strong.
On Saturday, BYU tied the school record with a ninth straight game shooting 50% or better from the field and set a new record with number of games in a season with 10-plus 3-pointers made (14). The Cougars are currently on a five-game run with 10-plus 3-pointers made.
“We always have five guys on the court that can shoot the ball and can pass the ball and make plays for each other,” senior Yoeli Childs said. “And I feel like we’ve gotten to the point where we gel with each other enough that we don’t really talk about offense any more. Practices are all about defense. We’ll do a couple quick seconds of offense and shooting, but we’re at the point where we know how to play with each other and our focus is really just on the defensive end right now.”
The next week will prove to be as much of a challenge as the past few weeks.
The Cougars will be on the road for both games, visiting Loyola Marymount on Thursday and San Diego on Saturday. Both teams are at the bottom of the WCC standings, with only two wins in conference play each, but they will be fighting that much harder to add to their win column as the regular season dwindles down. And they will each take on BYU in their respective home courts, an added layer of difficulty to the Cougars.
“We have a chance to make some noise and do some things,” Pope said. “We’ll see if we can keep that chance alive on Thursday, when we have a huge game at LMU, but right now we’re still on the hunt.”