BYU guard Tyler Haws is more than a marked man.
Foes are throwing the whole can of paint at the guy.
His West Coast Conference-leading 588 points are 125 more than the conference's No. 2 leading scorer, Anthony Ireland of Loyola Marymount. He’s scored 213 more than Gonzaga's leading scorer, guard Kevin Pangos. He's scored 94 more than the Pac-12's scoring leader, Roberto Nelson of Oregon State. And he has 92 more than the MWC's leader, Deonte Burton of Nevada.
Haws has always been the focus of BYU's opponents, but in the second half of WCC play this year, defenses are more prepared to toss everything at the Cougar junior, including not only the kitchen sink and garage ladder, but the closet bowling ball.
Haws will lead the Cougars on a key road trip this week at Pacific on Thursday and and St. Mary’s on Saturday. BYU has never played in Pacific’s house and has never beaten the Gaels (0-3) in Moraga, Calif.
If BYU’s grinding, gritty, hard-fought battle with San Francisco last Saturday in Provo is any indication of what’s in store on the road, the Cougars will need Haws and much more to go their way this week.
Haws is not only going to see more of the same attention the second time around in league play, but teams just might gimmick things up to try and disrupt the league’s top scorer. The Dons put 6-foot-9 Mark Tollefsen on him. I don’t know if that is why Haws was so cold for most of that game, firing a lot of shots short, but it was a junk defense thrown at BYU to try to slow down the former Lone Peak star.
Haws went 3 of 10 from the field in the first half and finished 7 of 20 for 19 points, some five points below his average. Tollefsen fouled out late in the game, but the Cougars had to get a lot of help to make up for a rare cold shooting game out of their star.
The key here is Haws shaking it off. He has a great stroke and doesn’t need much time to fire off his shot. He’s a tireless worker without the ball and BYU assistant Terry Nashif continues to draw up plays to shake Haws loose. But defenders are getting familiar and they’re adjusting too.
This road trip looms huge for the Cougars, a 17-win team that has been identified as one of the last at-large teams in the NCAA tournament in the last three prognostications by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. At least a split on this trip would keep Lunardi’s science and numbers in line for BYU to ultimately squeak into the tournament. Losing a pair to Pacific and St. Mary’s on the road would put that in jeopardy — but not out of reach.
In my humble opinion, Haws has been on a tear of late and his misfires on Saturday were more of an anomaly. Unless he’s hurt or experiencing a lack of confidence, which he is not, last Saturday was more of a skid than an extended cold spell.
Still, a key for BYU is the insertion and execution of current sixth man Matt Carlino, whose skills were front and center against the Dons when he dished out nine assists with zero turnovers in a narrow win.
Along with Haws, Carlino is a proven game-changer on the road in this league. He can get Haws easier shots. He can set up sophomore Kyle Collinsworth. Then, Collinsworth — as shown against USF — can find Carlino for set shots from beyond the arc after trying to penetrate into the lane.
Carlino is a gifted long passer and can set up Eric Mika in transition. He rebounds, gets deflections, gets steals, and when he’s on, his 3-point shot is a game-changer. He got 25 points in BYU's triple-overtime loss at Portland.
Meanwhile, Haws has scored an amazing 188 points in his last six games. That is a scoring rate higher than anyone in the country, an average of 31.3 points per contest. It’s not all him; it takes a village (screens, double picks, pinpoint passing, rebounding, fast breaks, getting fouled, scoring at the line and adding 3-pointers). And it’s better with Carlino doing what Carlino is capable of doing.
RealTimeRPI.com has the Cougars ranked No. 41 as of Monday afternoon, while Pacific is 102 and St. Mary’s 53. That same so-called authority has BYU winning by one point at Pacific and losing by 11 points at St. Mary’s.
But the Cougars tend to bring out the best in WCC teams, especially St. Mary’s. Pacific, led by upperclassmen, is certainly more than capable of spanking BYU in Stockton.
BYU coach Dave Rose has frequently said that his squad has learned a lot about itself in recent weeks after losing that triple-overtime game on the road to Portland.
I’d wager a lot of it has to do with managing the fouls of his big men — Mika and Nate Austin — and by inserting Josh Sharp and Luke Worthington on the floor earlier.
I think managing scorers Haws, Carlino and Collinsworth and keeping them not only effective but engaged and happy is also part of that puzzle.
The road will tell the tale of whether the Cougars have truly made progress.
It always does.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].