Provo • Now ranked No. 23 in the AP Poll – the first time BYU has found itself in the AP Top 25 in nine years – the Cougars are turning heads. But if people would have been paying attention throughout the entire season, there’d be no need to get whiplash now.
BYU – which has only three regular-season games left starting on Thursday when Santa Clara comes into the Marriott Center – has been silently working on this all year.
And the way the Cougars have been building their success has come through their offense.
In fact, BYU has the third best team offensive efficiency (1.111) in the nation, behind Gonzaga (1.183) and Dayton (1.136).
The Cougars are also the best 3-point shooting team, making 42.6% of their shots from beyond the arc, and third in field-goal percentage (50.2%). The Cougars have made 304 3-point field goals through 28 games – 26 shots away from tying the school record of 330 set in 2015-16 in 37 games. The current squad is making 10.9 per game compared to the record of 8.9 set in 2015-16.
“I would say 99% of it is that we have good players and we have talented shooters,” coach Mark Pope said. “The guys that were here when I got here and the guys that we brought here are talented shooters.”
The eight players that predominantly lead BYU on the court – Yoeli Childs, Jake Toolson, TJ Haws, Alex Barcello, Dalton Nixon, Kolby Lee, Zac Seljaas and Connor Harding – are all shooting 40% or better from the field. Childs, Toolson, Haws and Barcello are all averaging double-digit points for BYU as well.
Having the ability to get shots from any player makes guarding BYU more difficult for opponents. If a team chooses to double up on Childs (rightfully so, as he’s averaging 20.7 points), it risks leaving another Cougar open who’s just as capable of making his shot.
And because anyone can score, BYU shares the ball more. The Cougars rank third in both assists per game (17.7) and assist turnover ratio (1.58).
BYU comes in second in total assists with 495.
“Taking advantage of (anyone being able to shoot), that comes from having an extremely unselfish team,” said Haws, who leads the team with 151 assists this season. “Our team, we're trying to find the best shots. And when guys are feeling it, we try to find those guys.”
But even for one of the best shooting teams in the country, the ball can get sticky at times and shots don't fall.
The Cougars struggled with that last week, particularly in the first half of the San Diego game.
The Toreros led 33-32 at halftime last Saturday after keeping BYU to 34% shooting from the field, but the Cougars recovered and shot 61% from the field in the second half.
Their performance was indicative of what Pope has been telling his Cougars all year long – to own their shots and keep shooting because eventually they'll start falling.
But the team also has to step up on the defensive side.
That's how BYU was able to come out with a win against USD (and Saint Mary's earlier this month), by making a defensive stop.
With the postseason just around the corner, and the Cougars poised to return to the NCAA Tournament, being able to play a complete game will be key to BYU's success going forward.
“Coach has been saying it for a long time now, defense is going to win games for us in this league,” Haws said. “When shots don’t fall for us, every defensive possession has to mean the world to us. I think we’re getting better at that and that’s going to help us heading down this stretch in conference (play).”
Santa Clara at BYU
At Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff » Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV » CBS Sports Network
Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143.
Records » BYU 21-7, 10-3; Santa Clara 18-9, 5-7.
Series history » BYU leads, 21-6
Last meeting » BYU 80, Santa Clara 74 (Jan. 12, 2019)
About BYU » BYU entered the AP Top 25 this week at No. 23, the first time the Cougars have been ranked since 2010-11. … The team is on a six-game winning streak and has won its last 11 home games. … Yoeli Childs is averaging 20.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. … Santa Clara is the lone West Coast Conference opponent the Cougars have yet to play this season.
About Santa Clara » The team is coming to Provo on a three-game losing streak, most recently coming off a 65-59 loss at Loyola Marymount. … Forward Josip Vrankic led the Broncos with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field. … Three Broncos are averaging double-digit points – Vrankic (11.9), Trey Wertz (11.9) and DJ Mitchell (10). … Santa Clara is seventh in the WCC rankings.