PROVO — Marked men.
Tyler Haws and Loyola Marymount’s Anthony Ireland are the No. 1 and 2 scorers in the West Coast Conference.
They are also the most defended and fouled. Game plans call for nuclear physical play against this duo. Both have been to the free-throw line 144 times, which leads the league.
Haws leads the conference in scoring at 20.7 points a game; Ireland is close behind at 20.3.
The idea is to bump, hold, grab, push and generally disrupt their rhythm so they mess up their shot. The idea is to play them tough off the ball. For Ireland, a point guard, foes hound and harass his dribble. For Haws, you try to keep him from running his stuff, get to his spots, and keep the ball out of his hands. Generally speaking, you get in their heads.
This is all basketball 101. It’s the life of a scorer. To defend scorers, you push the limits and test how games are officiated. Once it appears a certain level of physical play is allowed, you operate on that threshold as a defender.
It was interesting in Saturday’s remarkable home loss to San Francisco in the Marriott Center, we saw Haws, a tough competitor but mild-mannered man, get a technical when he shoved a player who guarded him hard. Haws had just been hit in the head with an arm and he reacted.
Mighty human of him.
Midway through the first half of a physical game that looked on the verge of getting out of control, San Francisco’s Chris Adams bumped Haws, who then faked a shot to get Adams in the air. Haws made a move and shot the ball with contact but there was no call on his air-ball shot.
On the next BYU possession, Haws and Adams again tangled and that led to Haws earning the T.
Thing is, Haws didn’t score a point in the first 12 minutes of the game, but then scored the Cougars’ next eight in about four minutes.
This Haws deal is one of many issues Dave Rose’s team is struggling with. His team doesn’t react well when physical play is applied. It was evident in the preseason and highlighted at home when Utah took it to the Cougars and should have won if not for Matt Carlino playing Superman.
In losses to Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga you saw this trend. Same in losing leads at San Diego and against San Francisco in consecutive losses.
But how big is the issue?
It may be one of many that are challenging this team, which appears headed for double-digit losses for the first time in the Rose era and the possibility of missing the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars are not physical. They aren’t big enough. When football player Bronson Kaufusi comes on the floor, they have a physical element, but it isn’t enough. The Cougars aren’t very deep. Recruited quick help hasn’t made up for losing Chris Collinsworth and Steve Rogers with their career-ending injuries.
Haws has pulled this team along and he’s logged a lot of miles, playing a team-high 878 minutes, tops on the team ahead of Brandon Davies (747) and Carlino (714). Remember, this time last year, he was a missionary in the Philippines. Haws has been remarkable.
But Haws isn’t the problem. He only represents a bigger issue. When this team gets big leads, it loses them. When opponents knock them around, they get frustrated. When defenses are extended to harass Carlino early and slow him down, the good teams usually do just that. Davies hasn’t been elevating and dominating like he did before the ankle sprain. Inconsistency outside of Haws reigns. The Cougars can’t shift to a man defense and punish others. You can see the frustration mount.
The biggest problem Rose has is something that can only be solved in recruiting or if somebody breaks out like a plague and starts hitting from distance.
Rose’s offense is predicated on long-range shooting. It comes off transition, it comes from inside out and it is created by moving the ball around the horn to bombers.
BYU has no bombers who can consistently deliver.
This isn't news. Anybody with eyes knows this.
But if you look at WCC 3-point shooting, it is startling just how big an issue this is with the Cougars. Even in the Mountain West, in which Rose had his share of success, he didn’t deal with this type of challenge because he had shooters.
BYU has nobody listed in the top 15 of 3-point percentage shooters in the WCC.
Conversley, the San Francisco team that blistered the Cougars last Saturday in the Marriott Center has three players ranked in the top five, led by No. 1 Avry Holmes (.515 on 35 of 68) and No. 2 De’End Parker (.509 on 27 of 53).
If Rose doesn’t have a shooter who can make opponents pay for roughing up Davies and Haws around the key, it will be a very tough March in Provo. Carlino is an enigma; up and down. Craig Cusick is actually the leader from outside. He experimented with Cory Calvert last Saturday after seldom using him of late.
It’ll be interesting to see what moves Rose makes in the next few days.
He needs a few marked men.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].