Provo • We’ve entered the home stretch.
The BYU basketball men and women have played nearly 50 games between them this season (49 to be exact). The men have just five games remaining before the conference tournament in early March, while the women have six left.
So now might be a good time to figure out some things we’ve learned about the squads in their final seasons in the West Coast Conference.
Lesson 1: Amber Whiting can coach
There was much speculation about the woman who BYU picked to follow in Jeff Judkins’s footsteps and lead the women’s program into the Big 12 era. She had only coached in high school and AAU, after all, so the question of whether she could coach at the collegiate level was a legitimate one.
After a poor start, the BYU women have righted the ship and look like a legitimately cohesive team. Whiting tinkered until she found a consistent and effective starting lineup. She saw a star in Lauren Gustin and has run almost everything through her. She’s Installed a defensive system that works most nights.
All that has led to a 7-5 WCC record and a legitimate chance to finish third in the conference, which is where the Cougars were projected in the preseason and looked unlikely in the first 12 games.
Lesson 2: The men don’t have consistent outside shooting
Mark Pope went out and got transfers or recruits who, on paper, could shoot the lights out from the 3-point line. And he was bringing back veteran players who made their fair share of jump shots last year.
But in reality, the men haven’t found any real consistency up and down the roster on that front. The only player shooting above 40% who has attempted more than 50 is Spencer Johnson (47.6%). Only two players other than Johnson — Dallin Hall and Jaxson Robinson — are shooting above 35%. Hall is at 36.2% and Robinson is shooting 35.4%. Everyone is below 35%.
That might not totally matter in the final season of WCC play, but it certainly matters in the Big 12. They’ll need Noah Waterman, Trey Stewart, Richie Saunders and others to shoot much better on 3-pointers while the aforementioned three shoot as well or better.
Lesson 3: Both teams are prone to turnovers
Whether it’s Whiting or Pope, both coaches have lamented ad nauseam about how much their players give the ball away. Both teams have had games where they had 20 or more turnovers, with most games in the mid to high teens. Winning is much more difficult when you can’t take care of the ball.
And no matter what they do or what improvement they show in a game here or there, they always regress back to committing a high number of turnovers. The men right now have back-to-back games of committing less than 10, but we’ll see if that continues.
Big jumps for the men in these metrics after two wins. Last week, they sat at No. 80 in KenPom and 95 in NET, respectively.
Play of the Week
Jaxson Robinson received a pass from Richie Saunders about midway through the second half of BYU’s win over Pacific. Saunders had stolen the ball and saw Robinson racing up the court in the opposite lane.
Once Robinson caught the pass, he was alone and delivered a tomahawk dunk with his right hand. Just before he jogged back on defense, he pointed toward the Cougars’ bench. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he was pointing to one of his teammates, the whole bench or a nearby Pacific player.
Rudi Williams shed a bit of light on the subject after the game.
“He was pointing at Braedon Moore,” Williams said. “I can’t speak on why.”
Moore is a freshman on BYU’s team who played for Donda Academy last year. He has a close relationship with Robinson and Williams, and has often been seen with one or both of them at BYU women’s basketball games. In fact, the white headband Williams has been sporting lately used to be Moore’s.
Sources said Robinson and Moore, who is redshirting his freshman year, made a friendly bet before Saturday’s game. If Robinson dunked the ball within the next couple of games, Moore would owe him $10.
Looks like Moore will have to pay up.
Most Telling Quote
“I just want us to keep growing and keep getting better, get some momentum heading into Vegas finishing these last conference games. I feel like when we get to Vegas, no one’s going to want to play us in that first game because teams realize that maybe the first time when we played them, we may have dropped the game or something, but they know we’re a dangerous team and we’ve definitely gotten better since the last time we’ve seen them.” — Rudi Williams on what he wants to see in the last five games of the regular season.
Don’t ever let any athlete or coach tell you they all focus on “one game at a time” and never look ahead to future anything because that’s just not how human beings work.
Williams let it slip with his quote that players think about the big-picture implications of certain single games or groups of them. Of course they’re thinking about the WCC Tournament. They’re thinking about what would happen if they win the tournament. They’re thinking about the Gonzaga road game next week, too.
And that’s not bad! It’s actually refreshing for a player to actually acknowledge that other games exist on the schedule other than the one right in front of them, and to indicate those future games have real stakes. More, please.
Thursday at Pepperdine
Saturday at Gonzaga
Thursday vs. Pepperdine
Saturday vs. Loyola Marymount
It goes without saying that all eyes will be on men’s road game against Gonzaga. Pope has been saying lately that he feels the team improving every game. That will definitely be tested in the final road matchup against the Bulldogs as WCC opponents.