The last time BYU's basketball team was on the court, players were running around like picnic ants in the Huntsman Center as Utah’s guys played Stomp the Bugs.
A week later, the Cougars have regrouped, fiddled with final exams, done some introspection, and watched film of themselves playing one-on-five against a hungry rival.
On Friday, coach Dave Rose loaded up his crew for a second trip to the West Coast, this time to play No. 13 Oregon on Saturday. The Ducks are a 9-0 Pac-12 team, the nation’s No. 3 scoring squad that ranks fourth in the country in field goal percentage.
After what happened a week ago, this is a matchstick to a Christmas tree waiting to happen if the Cougars don’t regroup.
On the other hand, BYU is used to playing ranked teams with sparkling records. The Cougars led undefeated Iowa State and Wichita State by double figures in losses and boldly took on UMass on the road while beating 8-2 Stanford and 10-1 Texas.
The four teams that have beaten BYU have a combined record of 39-1.
This trip to Eugene, Ore., fits with what Rose has scheduled so far.
This week Rose had to re-emphasize what his team is built to do.
He used words like “unraveled,” “not ourselves” and “didn’t recognize” in reference to last week's game while crediting Utah’s staff and players for what happened.
His players are at their best when they share. When they don’t, they’re easily defended. And as Utah found, easily dispatched.
Rose has tried to toughen his team by making trips to San Francisco and Eugene, a two-game jaunt to Kansas City and that long trip to Springfield, Mass.
It may have been an easier path to have stayed in the Marriott Center the past two months, loaded up the schedule with cream puffs, cupcakes and scrimmage fodder and then proclaimed an undefeated season heading into Christmas.
But that was never the plan. Rose wanted experiences that would prepare for Gonzaga and beef up the RPI.
What he’s got is a quick, scoring team, a squad that puts up a shot within 12 seconds. Most of the time it has worked this season.
Except for Tyler Haws, this is a team that struggles to make free throws. It’s a team that has to get more mentally tough in holding on to leads and managing panic, as witnessed at Utah.
BYU’s reliance on the zone — shuffling around, backs to the basket, avoiding fouls — may have taken some intensity out of the Cougars' players. It’s made the team soft on that end of the floor. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hard, tough play; it means the style isn’t aggressive enough to stop hot shooters. The Cougars could use some man defense, some traps, more double teams and more effective close outs, perhaps a little three-quarter press at times.
One interesting trend is how Rose’s team does or does not shoot the 3.
Three years ago with Jimmer Fredette roaming around with unlimited range, the team shot 36.1 percent from distance, attempting 865 with 312 makes.
The year after Fredette in 2011-12, the Cougars shot 31.2 percent from 3-point land. Matt Carlino led the team with 33.1 percent accuracy. Last season, Haws shot 38.1 percent on 43 of 113 shots from the outside, while Carlino shot 33.5 percent on 56 of 167. As a team, the Cougars shot 33.8 percent on 213 makes and 630 attempts.
In this young season, the Cougars are averaging 35.8 percent accuracy (64-179) from the 3-point line, with Haws leading the way at 42.4 percent (14-33) but Carlino struggling at 28.1 percent (16 made in a team-high 57 attempts).
These figures show that the Cougars are shooting 3s right now more accurately than anytime since Fredette. There’s still two months to balance out that statistic. On the other hand, however, with 38 percent of this year’s schedule over, the Cougars have made just 30 percent of last year’s 3-point total.
Maybe that is by design. It may be a product of the fast pace and focus on driving inside the paint as well as the production of freshman Eric Mika. But this team could make more 3s.
Saturday's game between the Cougars and Ducks should be a track meet.
But if Rose’s team is to have a chance, it definitely can’t repeat last week’s one-on-five avenue of just taking a shot — and as Rose put it — not the best shot.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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