PROVO — After suffering a humbling 14-point loss to Saint Mary's on Jan. 28, BYU coach Dave Rose decided to make some changes.
At the time, the Cougars had dropped back-to-back home games for the first time since the 2004-05 season, and their hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight year were slipping away.
One of those changes included shaking up the starting lineup, as Rose replaced junior shooting guard Brock Zylstra with redshirt freshman Anson Winder.
That move paid immediate dividends.
In the next game against Gonzaga, Winder played a big role for the Cougars. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Las Vegas native forced a couple of steals early on that led to points, which helped propel BYU to a much-needed 83-73 victory over the Bulldogs. Winder finished with 10 points, five assists and three steals.
"We've done a few things philosophically, as well as just the change of personnel," Rose said. "Defensively, it's really given us a good lift, especially at the start of games. We get our hands on a lot more balls. We've been able to deflect a lot of passes and score in transition. I just think that's been a great change for us. Hopefully we can build on it and see where it takes us."
Rose said Zylstra, who is nursing an injured ankle, is "questionable" for today's game at the Marriott Center against Pepperdine (4 p.m., MST, BYUtv).
While Winder is grateful to be a starter again — he started six straight games earlier in the season as a point guard before Matt Carlino was eligible — he said he just wanted to provide what his team needed.
"When (Rose) put me in the lineup, I definitely just wanted to do what got me there — play hard defense and get out on transition," said Winder. "I think that's helped for the most part. I just want to keep it going."
Winder added that he maintains a similar mindset as a starter as he did as a reserve. "It's the same mentality, do whatever I can to help the team win — diving for balls, making assists, getting steals, whatever," he said.
Meanwhile, Zylstra has performed well in his new role, too.
In last Saturday's 79-60 win at Portland, Zylstra came off the bench and scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and had one steal, despite playing 17 minutes in the second half on an injured ankle. Zylstra played 28 minutes, compared to 16 for Winder.
"I think Brock's handled (coming off the bench) great," Winder said. "He's come in and given us a huge spark like last game against Portland. He's grown into the role and he's doing really well."
The Cougars are mired in a well-documented shooting slump, having made just 17-of-101 3-pointers in their last six games. That's one of the reasons BYU's defensive intensity in recent games has been crucial.
"Our shooting percentage hasn't been the best, so we had to clamp down on our defense," Rose said. "I feel like our defensive pressure has helped us get some transition buckets."
Winder feels more comfortable playing shooting guard. Still, he turned in a couple of impressive performances at point guard early in the season. Against Nevada, he played 38 minutes and scored nine points to go along with four rebounds, four steals and four assists. Winder dished out nine assists against Northern Arizona and recorded 10 points and six assists against Oregon.
Last season, Winder sat on the bench, redshirting, with a front row seat to Jimmermania and the Cougars' scintillating 32-5 campaign. Winder said he benefited from observing during his first year in Provo.
"Last year, I was eased into everything," he said. "I didn't have any pressure to go out and play and produce. It helped me to watch."
For much of the first part of West Coast Conference play, Winder found himself watching a lot from the bench. He played less than 10 minutes per game during a six-game stretch.
Now, thanks to his quick hands and aggressive approach, Winder is starting again — and making the most of it.
Cougars on the air
Pepperdine (8-16, 2-11)
at BYU (20-6, 8-3)
today, 4 p.m.
TV: BYUtv Radio: 1160 AM 102.7 FM
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company