Twelve minutes into Wednesday night's game with Arizona State, BYU had the Sun Devils right where it wanted them.
The Cougars led by 11; ASU's top scorer and rebounder was on the bench in foul trouble; and the Devils had enough team fouls that BYU seemed likely to shoot dozens of free throws the remainder of the half.It was time to put this one away, and that's pretty much what the Sun Devils did, outscoring BYU 21-5 over the next seven minutes en route to an 82-74 victory in the Marriott Center.
During that crucial stretch, the Cougars fell prey to what has become their nemesis - the turnover. In 15 possessions, BYU gave the ball away nine times, including one string of four straight turnovers.
"The sad thing is that we started out so well," BYU Coach Roger Reid said. "Then we started doing what we've done at other times, not executing and making bad passes."
Cougar players are aware of - and frustrated by - all the turnovers. They just don't know what to do about them.
"It's killing us," Y. forward Steve Schreiner said. "We had three or four turnovers, boom, boom, boom, and they got layups and it just kept going from there."
"This is getting to be ridiculous," guard Mark Heslop chimed in. "We're not going to win many games with 21 turnovers."
And this was a game the Cougars were supposed to win. So far this season they have been fairly predictable, losing to teams they were supposed to lose to and beating teams they were supposed to beat. And while Arizona State is expected to be improved over last year, the Sun Devils are young and were playing their first road game of the season.
ASU Coach Bill Frieder gave credit to his team, which includes seven newcomers, for not being intimidated by its first road appearance. He also pointed out that game films of BYU had been helpful.
"We noticed that they struggled with traps and a little pressure," he said, "and I think that was the key to the game."
It's something other coaches have noticed, too, along with the Cougars' tendency to get burned by the three-point shot. ASU, though, shot eight fewer three-pointers than usual, while taking the ball inside effectively. The shot chart for the game shows the Sun Devils with 13 field goals ranging from five-footers to layups, and that's more than BYU usually gives up, what with 7-foot-6 center Shawn Bradley dominating that neighborhood.
ASU solved the Bradley obstacle by stealing the ball on the defensive end, getting downcourt and putting the shot up before Bradley could catch up. So while Bradley ended up with seven blocked shots, sloppy ballhandling kept him from being the defensive factor he has been in recent games. Three Arizona State centers - Isaac Austin, Emory Lewis and Robert Conlisk - scored a combined 21 points (on seven of 15 shots) and had 12 rebounds, and two of them fouled out "holding" Bradley to a team-high 22 points and 16 rebounds.
The only other Cougar in double figures was Heslop, with 19.
The leading Sun Devil scorers were point guard Lynn Collins, with 24 - double his season average; guard Tarence Wheeler, 17; guard Stevin Smith and Austin, 10 each.
Actually, BYU looked like it would get back into the game at the start of the second half, outscoring the Devils 6-2 to trail by one at 37-36.
But ASU went on another tear, outscoring the Cougs 28-9 for a 20-point lead at 65-45. BYU made a mild run at that point, whittling away at the lead but never getting any closer than the 8-point final difference.
Like his players, Reid is frustrated by the turnovers. The coach, however, knows what is needed to cut them down: faster players. Of course, that's like saying all you need to stop Bradley is your own 7-6 center.
"The one thing you can't do is make guys faster," Reid said. "You can try to recruit faster guys, but you can't make guys faster."
And while he admitted being disappointed, Reid said he isn't discouraged.
"I've seen enough good signs to know that if we get consistent, we can be very good," he said. "This is about as poor as we can play . . . hopefully."
The Cougars next game is Wednesday in Provo against James Madison.