PROVO — Now that’s more like it.
Mark down Jan. 4, 2014, as the day the 2013-14 BYU men’s basketball team discovered “defense." It's the idea that if a team tries hard to stop the other team from scoring it improves its chances of winning.
If the Cougars’ New Year’s resolution was to improve defensively, they got off to a stellar start. BYU suffocated the San Diego Toreros, 87-53, at the Marriott Center Saturday night.
Sure, the Toreros (9-7, 0-3) missed some open shots, but the Cougs made sure they didn’t attempt very many. In securing its first West Coast Conference win of the season, BYU (9-7, 1-2) held San Diego to 34.5 percent shooting, including 2-of-11 from the 3-point line. The Cougars also severely out-hustled and out-rebounded the Toreros.
Skyler Halford, starting for the first time in his BYU career, scored 28 points in 26 minutes, but it was his head-first dive after a loose ball at midcourt that symbolized what this game was all about for the home team.
Playing a respectable opponent in front of its home crowd for the first time since Iowa State visited Provo on Nov. 20, BYU made a statement of resolve, toughness and team play with its 34-point annihilation of San Diego, a team that earlier lost by just a single point to No. 21 San Diego State.
In making this statement, BYU coach Dave Rose and the Cougars sent a message to Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and the rest of the WCC that they better not write off these Cougs just yet. These cats still have some fight left in them.
Here are the grades for each BYU position group and other aspects of the game:
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Halford was the clear star of the night, making 11-of-16 shots for 28 points while collecting three assists, two rebounds, a steal and committing just one turnover.
Equally as important was Halford’s defense, energy and leadership. How does a player go from the end of the bench to team leader in half a season? Somehow, Halford appears to have done exactly that after his inspired performance versus San Diego. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain that energy and enthusiasm when his shots are not falling or he's playing in a road environment.
Kyle Collinsworth played one of his best games of the season. Often Collinsworth’s stat line has not quite lived up to the eye test, but this was not the case Saturday night. His 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go along with his eight assists, seven rebounds and just two turnovers accurately reflect his impact on the game.
Matt Carlino coming off the bench worked well. It was a needed adjustment from the coaching staff. Carlino fired up a few shots late in the contest, but during his most meaningful minutes he looked determined to play under control and get other players involved. Carlino made some nice hustle plays and his teammates seemed to genuinely rally around him in his new role.
Tyler Haws played with more fire and effort than he has most of the season. He was more engaged on defense, didn’t force as many shots and — wait for it — had two assists (nearly double his average).
Nate Austin did not foul out.
Eric Mika made 100 percent of his free throws.
Additionally, both Austin and Mika helped set the attitude and tone for BYU early in the game with some determined, aggressive play.
Austin played his best overall game in quite some time, helping the Cougars out-rebound the Toreros by 18. Most importantly, he didn’t foul out.
Mika only played 17 minutes because of injuries. He took several hard falls in the game, including one where he flipped over a San Diego player’s back and landed on his hip. He was hobbling around quite a bit after that. Mika was effective, however, in scoring 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including a pretty sweet and-one dunk.
Luke Worthington played nine minutes and fouled out. He also missed his two shots quite badly. On the plus side, he collected a rebound and an assist.
Josh Sharp handed out three assists and grabbed two rebounds in 16 minutes.
Halford certainly made Rose look like a genius by having a career game in his first start.
The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for rallying the team and getting it to play so hard and so well after such a disappointing four-game losing streak.
Defensively, this was BYU’s best effort of the season. It’s too bad fans will never know what might have been if BYU’s coaches had gone all-in with the man-to-man defense from the beginning of the season. Maybe nothing would have been different, but the Cougars’ defense certainly has been more watchable when it has manned up than when it has played its soft zone.
Interestingly, BYU will have opportunities in its next two games to avenge the devastating road losses to Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. Those two are next up on the schedule. The Cougars will need to win those games to confidently enter a key nine-day stretch beginning Jan. 16 where they play four straight road games.
Rose got exactly what he needed from his team versus San Diego. Now he has to keep his guys from getting too high after just one game.
San Diego came into its game against BYU with guards Johnny Dee, Christopher Anderson and Duda Sanadze collectively averaging about 41 points, nine assists and 11 rebounds per game.
Against the Cougars, the trio combined for 18 points, six assists and three rebounds while making just 6-of-33 shots and turning the ball over six times. A lot of the credit for that goes to BYU’s defense.
San Diego was picked to finish fifth in the WCC this season, but has gotten off to a rough start in conference play, losing to Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and now BYU on the road.
Are the Toreros the bad team with an failing grade that just got blown out by BYU, or are they the good team that played virtually even with San Diego State a month ago? They are probably somewhere in the middle.
It must have been nice for the Cougars to feel like they were actually playing in a college basketball arena again after visits to Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount. BYU had an announced attendance of 15,760 that was nearly four times the amount of those two games combined.
Kudos to the Cougar faithful for showing up loud and proud to support their team on the heels of the longest losing streak of the Rose era.