Provo • It’s difficult to evaluate the BYU men’s and women’s basketball teams this season.
On the one hand, both squads have winning streaks. The men have won seven in a row, and are 2-0 to start West Coast Conference play. The women have won three straight, and are 2-2 in WCC play after losing their first two outings.
On the other hand, the schools that BYU have been beating have been either clearly less talented, missing key players, or not Division I schools.
Take this past weekend, for example. The men on Thursday pummeled a Pacific team that was in the 200s on the NCAA’s NET ranking and had a losing record going into that game. Then on Saturday, they predictably beat a Portland team missing its two best players.
The women, meanwhile, nabbed their first two WCC wins against Pacific and St. Mary’s. Pacific was missing one of its leading scorers and had lost four straight, while St. Mary’s was in the final matchup of a six-game road trip and losers of three of their previous four.
Before the Christmas break, the men beat Lindenwood, which is in Division I this year for the first time ever. Then they had a tough time beating Weber State. The women beat Monmouth, a school in the Colonial Athletic League that hasn’t had a winning record in more than a decade.
None of those wins were impressive for either team. But, they’re winning, and that matters.
The men got Spencer Johnson back on Thursday after missing the last several weeks with a knee injury. He’s one of the most important pieces to their team. They’ve also been getting more consistent performances from Jaxson Robinson and Noah Waterman, and Rudi Williams continues to thrive off the bench.
Gideon George noted several reasons why the men’s team is on this current run.
“Just playing hard and playing smart, and believing in what the coaches preach every day, and staying the course and fighting,” George said Saturday. “We all believe in each other in the locker room, so we know how it is in there. So we’re going to come outside every day and fight for our brothers.”
And even though the women’s winning streak is only three games, they are just one win away from a .500 record overall, which would be a big accomplishment considering they have two three-game losing streaks this season already.
“I think just the two losses that we had kind of spoke for themselves,” forward Lauren Gustin said after beating Pacific, referencing losses to Gonzaga and Portland. “I think that kind of lit everyone up and everyone just realized that we’re not gonna go down that road. We’re a better team than what we had played.”
In those two quotes lie a palpable sense of increasing belief. Both teams have struggled at various points this season — the men with turnovers, the women with owning their roles and finishing games. But both teams have also shown signs of real improvement.
Good teams have to win the games their “supposed to” win, and there’s no doubt that both Cougars squads are doing that right now. But good teams are also measured by how they compete against the best teams out there, and neither BYU team has shown much of that so far.
So are these teams for real? Not yet, but there’s still a lot of season left to go.
Here’s another reason why evaluating these teams is so tough. The men’s team is on a seven-game winning streak, which includes wins against Creighton and Utah, and its KenPom ranking only improved one spot over the last week. However, the Cougars went up another 46 spots in the NET. Both of those metrics are crucial in evaluating a team’s NCAA Tournament chances.
As for the women, they’ve gone up 15 spots in the NET.
Play of the Week
It’s been well-documented this season that Atiki Ally Atiki is the personification of “Jump Around” by House of Pain. Over the weekend, BYU fans got a double-dose of it with Atiki dunking home one lob pass per game.
But the one against Pacific on the road Thursday took home the prize. Atiki sett a screen for Richie Saunders and slipped through two defenders on the roll to get free for the pass.
Performance of the Week
Nani Falatea dropped a career-high 24 points against St. Mary’s. She also added seven assists and shot 10 of 16 from the field. She dominated every aspect of that game and carried the team.
Quote of the Week
“Win a championship.” — Rose Bubakar, when asked what the New Year’s resolution was for the women’s basketball team.
Thursday at LMU, 9 p.m.
Saturday at San Diego, 6 p.m.
Saturday vs. San Diego, 2 p.m.