Going into its season opener against Weber State, the BYU men's basketball team appeared to have a substantial talent advantage on paper.
The Cougars have, in recent years, secured the talents of several nationally ranked high school recruits, coveted by other successful programs. The Wildcats, on the other hand, while they are well-coached and hard-working, typically have a roster full of players not offered scholarships by bigger programs.
In general, that difference in talent was clearly evident in Friday night’s game, which the Cougars won 81-72. BYU pulled out to a big lead early and was never truly threatened. Weber State had a few players get hot at different times to keep the game respectable, but ultimately the more talented Cougars were too much for the Wildcats to handle, particularly with the game at the Marriott Center.
Neither team did anything to alter preseason expectations. Weber State looked like a team good enough to win the Big Sky Conference, which it unanimously was picked to do by the coaches in the conference. BYU looked like a team athletic and skilled enough to compete with Gonzaga for the WCC title and return to the NCAA tournament.
A few things stood out about the teams in Friday night’s opener. The Cougars looked more athletic than last season, and as a result seem poised to be a more consistent team relying less on the three-point shot. Also, head coach Dave Rose stuck to his plan to play more man-to-man defense, which looked promising considering this was the season opener.
The Wildcats appear to have sufficient pieces to execute an effective inside-out game. For much of the contest, their big men outplayed the Cougar frontcourt, and this led to open shots and driving lanes for their better perimeter players during certain stretches. On the flip side, only four players scored for Weber State, which has to be a concern.
Bottom line: BYU should have won this game by at least 15 points. Read on for grades by position and more.
BYU’s guard line will either win or lose the Cougars a vast majority of their games this season. Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino dominated the offensive possessions, each taking more than 20 shots while no other player had as many as 10. Haws was his steady self, moving without the ball and contributing in multiple ways. Kyle Collinsworth played 36 solid minutes, reminding fans why he was a highly recruited player. Carlino continued to take cringe-worthy shots and play out of control at times, as he has in games past, but Friday night he made enough positive plays that it didn’t hurt the team. Anson Winder and Frank Bartley IV both had some nice moments and should provide solid depth. If Haws and Carlino had combined for a better shooting percentage than 44 percent against an inferior opponent, the grade would be a little better. That percentage will need to be better for the Cougars to beat better teams.
Davion Berry and Jeremy Senglin both had stretches of hot shooting that allowed the Wildcats to keep the game respectable. Unfortunately for Weber State, these stretches all came after BYU had built a double-digit lead, and the game never got closer than six points. The Weber State backcourt looked talented enough to overwhelm a lot of Big Sky teams, but it was not good enough to keep BYU’s guards from dominating the game.
Offensively, BYU’s frontcourt was quiet and underwhelming, combining for only 11 shots — half as many as Carlino alone. Highly touted freshman Eric Mika did make some outstanding plays to contribute to the Cougar cause, however. He made a couple of highly athletic defensive plays, blocking three shots in the game, and had two very nice assists on passes to players cutting to the basket. Nate Austin led the big men in minutes with 26, while Mika played 24.
Kyle Tresnak was the biggest difference-maker in the game for the Wildcats. He carried the load offensively in the first half, showing off some excellent post moves and offensive awareness. BYU was forced to double team him, which helped open up the game for other players. Joel Bolomboy pitched in with some solid dirty work — 13 rebounds, 2 blocks and 11 points. The bottom line is that if Tresnak had not played in this game, Weber State very well might have been down 25 at halftime.
Cougar coaches clearly recognized that they had a talent advantage over Weber State, particularly in the backcourt. Rather than playing the odds of shooting outside shots, BYU’s guards consistently attacked the paint for closer shots. On the night, the Cougars only took nine three-pointers, several of which were thrown up to beat the shot clock. The strategy worked against Weber State. Against better teams, the Cougs will probably have to take and make a few more threes. Rose also made the necessary adjustment of providing help on Wildcat big man Tresnak. Ultimately, however, BYU had a talent edge over Weber State that should have resulted in a larger margin of victory playing at home.
Randy Rahe kept his team working hard enough to keep the game from getting totally out of control. Losing by only single digits on the road to a more talented team is at least a minor moral victory for Rahe, though he surely would not admit that. It would have taken a career night from one of his players to pull off a win Friday night, and that didn’t happen.
The officials were decent enough in the game — that is to say there were no game-changing calls that they blew. The game was really never close enough for the officiating to be an issue either way. There were a lot of 50/50 calls that could have gone either way, as always, and each team seemed to get about an equal share going its way.