PROVO — After an 81-64 debacle at the Huntsman Center last Saturday against Utah, BYU took a little time off to take care of final exams, and do some introspection about what went wrong.
In recent days, the Cougars began practicing again to prepare for Saturday’s game at No. 13 Oregon.
“There are some things that we’ve taken from the last couple of games that are really important for us to get better,” said coach Dave Rose. “Our guys have responded really well in a tough week. Their schedules are all messed up. They’re staying up late, studying. Some of them have had two finals every day this week. But I think we understand that we’ve got to make better decisions on the offensive end of the floor. We have to be way more consistent in our effort and execution. That’s what we’ve been through the last few days.”
As for the mental state of his players, Rose said, “They’re down after the rivalry loss, obviously, but I think they understand we need to improve. We need to get better. I think they’re 100 percent committed to doing that.”
What’s been the emphasis this week?
“Our focus is on mentally getting tougher,” said forward Josh Sharp. “We’ve been working on defense and stuff. We need to come together, be more unselfish and play for each other.”
As for the practices, guard Kyle Collinsworth said, “They’ve been pretty intense. It’s been about just coming together as a team and figuring out how to get better each day.”
Among other things, BYU is hoping to improve its defensive play.
“We’re getting better. We’re a young team,” Collinsworth said. “We’ll figure it out. I promise you that by the end of the year, we’ll be a good defensive team.”
Guard Matt Carlino said his team has a lot to prove against the Ducks.
“We want to come out and play well in this Oregon game,” he said. “We’re moving on and getting ready for Oregon. We expect to play a good team. They’re obviously one of the top teams in the country. Coach was telling us today how much talent they have.”
FREE-THROW WOES: Sharp explained it succinctly and accurately.
“Our free throws were awful in that game,” he said.
Against Utah, the Cougars made just 17 of 31 shots (55 percent) from the charity stripe.
But it’s not a new problem. As a team, BYU is shooting only 68 from the free-throw line. It would be much worse if not for Tyler Haws shooting 85 percent from the line.
“A huge emphasis,” Collinsworth said of free-throw shooting. “We’re shooting before, after and during (practice). We’re shooting more free throws in game-like situations.”
“There are a lot of things we can do, and we’ve started quite a few of them,” Rose said. “The main thing is repetition and practice and consistency and confidence. What’s really hard to do is to create the feeling of going to the line in the game when you’re not in a game situation. We’ve tried a lot of different things the last two weeks, and we’ll continue to adjust that and do more. We’ve tried to figure out ways to put pressure on guys similar to what they’ll feel in a game situation.”
SHARP PERFORMANCE: One of the few bright spots for BYU in the loss to the Utes was the effort by Sharp, who came off the bench to grab three rebounds and score four points in 15 minutes of action.
“It felt good to be out there, but I still made mistakes and as a team we weren’t at all where we want to be,” said Sharp, who transferred to BYU from Utah after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “It’s something we’re trying to fix.”
ODD SCHEDULE: December is usually a difficult month for BYU in terms of scheduling. For example, the Marriott Center is booked with other activities throughout much of the month, making it hard to schedule home games.
One of the challenges this year is that the Cougars will play only two games between Dec. 12 and Dec. 27. Following the Oregon game, BYU starts West Coast Conference play on Dec. 28 at Loyola Marymount.
“I feel like it’s tough when you have a lot of space between games. I haven’t even thought about our next game after Oregon,” Carlino said. “It’s tough with finals and all that stuff. But we just want to come out and play well in this game to build our confidence going into league play.”