Reflection of the Week: The lead story
Before I started with this weekly Utah Sports Ruckus column, I was covering the BYU men's basketball team for the Deseret News, writing report cards after each game. One thing I observed and touched on regularly was the inconsistency of the minute distribution for the Cougars.
Perhaps the one player most impacted was Anson Winder. Winder started the season essentially as the sixth man for the Cougs and averaged 23.2 minutes through the first five games, including 21 each in big games versus Stanford and Iowa State.
In the five games that followed, however, Winder mysteriously slid down toward the end of the bench, averaging just 8.2 minutes and less than a point per game as he watched newcomers Frank Bartley IV and Skyler Halford seemingly pass him in the pecking order.
Since then, the season has remained a roller coaster for Winder. With games of just one minute (Utah State, at Oregon), three minutes (San Francisco), four minutes (at Pepperdine), five minutes (at San Francisco), six minutes (at UMass), seven minutes (Wichita State, Pacific) and eight minutes (at Pacific), it has been anybody’s guess as to what role Winder would play from game to game.
The whole situation seemed quite strange and one was left to wonder if there was more to it than what met the eye. The playing time fluctuation had no rhyme or reason to it. It didn’t seem to be a matter of matchups (he played four minutes at Pepperdine and then 20 minutes versus the same team 10 days later) and certainly was not a matter of performance.
In terms of performance, Winder has been solid and, at times, excellent. He’s had moments of poor play and inconsistency, sure, but so has every other BYU player and the team as a whole this season.
According to statsheet.com, Winder is No. 1 in the West Coast Conference and No. 16 in the country in offensive efficiency (offensive rating), No. 1 in the WCC in assist/turnover ratio and near the top in true shooting percentage. Considering that Winder is known more for his defense than his offense, it leaves some scratching their heads wondering why he has not had a larger role on the team for so much of the time this season.
The strangeness of Winder’s season seemed to reach its apex Jan. 18 with the Cougars playing at Santa Clara. In the report card following that game I wrote:
“BYU was so dominant in the first half versus Santa Clara on Saturday night that coach Dave Rose was able to rest his best player nearly the entire second half.
"That’s right, Anson Winder played just one minute of the final 20.
"After Tyler Haws picked up two fouls in less than a minute to start the game, all Winder did was come in and put up 16 points in 19 minutes, baffling Santa Clara by knocking down shots all over the court. He also grabbed three rebounds, handed out an assist and played smothering defense.”
How often is it that a college basketball player scores 16 points in the first half and then doesn’t play for essentially the entire second half? What else did Winder have to prove?
Whatever it was, Winder proved himself once again in two critical games last week as he was moved into the starting lineup to face Gonzaga, the giant of the WCC, and Portland. In 40 combined minutes, Winder scored 36 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field, 14 of 14 from the foul line and 2 of 4 from behind the arc. He also helped the Cougars play some of their best defense of the season. They won both games and got themselves solidly back in the mix for an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
The game before, Winder had played an important 16 minutes in the Cougars' win at Saint Mary’s, just as it seemed their NCAA at-large hopes were dead following a demoralizing loss to Pacific (in which Winder played just eight minutes).
Prior to the Pacific game, Winder had played just three minutes versus San Francisco, and that seemed odd considering he had played 25 minutes the game before that.
All in all, as you can see, this season has been quite the winding road for the aptly-named junior shooting guard. It seems Winder deserves a ton of credit for staying mentally prepared and positive enough, through it all, to be ready to help his team out when it needed him most.
Winder had many reasons and opportunities to hang his head or throw in the towel this season but he didn’t. It’s a nice lesson and example in perseverance and character.
In hindsight: A look back at the week that was
Is Utah’s men’s basketball team an NCAA Tournament-quality group? It sure looked like it last week in taking the Arizona Wildcats, projected to be a No. 1 seed in the tournament, to overtime, and devastating the Arizona State Sun Devils (most recently projected as a No. 9 seed) on Sunday in a game they led 35-11 after 13 minutes.
The Utes’ biggest problem is their total and utter lack of quality road wins. Their only road win, not just in conference but for the entire season, came against bottom-feeder, USC (10-17, 1-13).
The Utes came painfully close to picking up road wins at Boise State, Washington, Washington State, Arizona State and Colorado. They were even pretty close at Arizona late in January. They just haven’t been quite able to get it done.
After their blowout of Arizona State on Sunday, I believe the Utes are an NCAA Tournament-quality team that will probably not get in because of their horrendous, embarrassing non-conference schedule. If they can finish the season by beating Colorado at home and then California and Stanford on the road, and follow that up with at least one win in the Pac-12 Tournament, I think they will get in.
It could happen.
The BYU men had an outstanding stretch last week with one exception that was out of its control: Gonzaga’s loss at San Diego Saturday night. That loss, strangely, is probably bigger for BYU than it is for Gonzaga. How hard can it be to beat Gonzaga on your home court, after all, if the Toreros can do it too?
Yeah, those Toreros, the seventh-place WCC team that BYU slammed by 34 points last month.
Regardless, it was still a big week for Matt Carlino (30 points on Saturday), Winder and the Cougars.
With Gonzaga losing to the Toreros, I still think the Cougs need to win at San Diego Saturday to finish the season and then make it to the championship game of the WCC Tournament to feel good about their NCAA Tournament chances.
Elsewhere in men’s college basketball, the Big Sky-leading Weber State Wildcats had a tough week, dropping two of three games. They still lead the conference by two games with four to play, though.
Utah Valley is now tied with New Mexico State atop the Western Athletic Conference standings after Saturday's bad blowout loss to 8-18 UMKC. The Wolverines host New Mexico State on Thursday in their biggest game of the season.
The Utah State Aggies got stomped at San Diego State to start the week and then lost at home to Fresno State to finish it. It’s probably time for the Aggies to start looking to next season, barring a miracle run in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
The BYU women’s team has now won seven straight games after roughing up Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount, two of the least impressive WCC teams, on the road last week. The Cougs were projected to be a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament prior to those two road wins.
The Cougs host San Diego (22-6, 11-6) on Saturday in a huge game to finish the season.
If I’m BYU I’m doing everything I can to get fans to that game. It’s a great opportunity to raise awareness and excitement for women’s basketball in the state. It would be nice to see a big crowd at the Marriott Center to support the Cougars as they make a run for the Big Dance.
In the NBA, the Jazz did a phenomenal job in losing all three games last week and falling one spot in the standings. They now have the sixth-worst record in the league, just ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
Speaking of which, isn’t it nice to see the Lakers and Celtics near the bottom of the NBA standings? Of course it is.
In that regard, the Jazz actually have a huge game to start the week versus the Celtics. They will probably win that one, but should bounce back nicely with losses to Phoenix and at Cleveland and Indiana later in the week.
If only the Jazz could play the Timberwolves every game. In three games since Jan. 18, Minnesota has outscored Utah by a total score of 331-273, or an average of about 110-91.
The T-Wolves didn’t even have Nikola Pekovic this last time, though that hardly mattered when Kevin Love put up a triple-double with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
If the Jazz could trade their top upcoming draft pick and either Gordon Hayward or Enes Kanter for Love this offseason should they do it? What if they had to throw in a future first-round pick as well?
Overall Ruckus rating for the local week in sports: On a scale of 1-to-5
Rating: 4 – well worth the time.
It was a tremendous local college basketball week.
Eye on the prize: What’s on the line this week
Games of the week:
Women’s NCAA: San Diego (22-6) at BYU (23-5), Saturday, 1 p.m.
Men’s NCAA: Colorado at Utah, Saturday, noon
Men’s NCAA: BYU at San Diego, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Men’s NCAA: New Mexico State at Utah Valley, Thursday, 7 p.m.
NBA: Phoenix at Utah, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Crystal ball: Predictions for the week
Last week the Ruckus went just 6-3 in its predictions, bringing the three-week total record to 20-6.
Jazz: 1-3 (win over Boston, losses to Phoenix, Cleveland and Indiana)
BYU men: 1-0
Utah men: 1-0
BYU women: 1-0
Utah State men: 1-1 (loss to New Mexico, win over San Jose State)
In perhaps the only interesting NBA game of the entire week (seriously look at the schedule), the Clippers beat the Rockets on Wednesday (8:30 p.m on ESPN)
Poll question of the week: What are your thoughts?
If the Jazz could get Love from the Timberwolves this offseason for Kanter, their top pick in the upcoming draft and a future first-round pick, should they do it?
Parting thoughts: I hate goodbyes
While the United States only had the fourth-most gold medals of the Winter Olympics, you can’t blame the state of Utah for it. Utah was extremely well-represented with four of the nine gold medalists: snowboarders Sage Kotsenburg and Kaitlyn Farrington and skiers Ted Ligety and Joss Christensen, having strong Utah ties.
Mikaela Shiffrin, an 18-year old from Colorado who took the gold medal in the Women’s Slalom event, was arguably the breakout star of the games for the U.S. Gracie Gold, the 18-year old figure skater who was probably the most hyped U.S. athlete going into the Olympics, performed well but finished fourth in her main event.
The biggest disappointments of the games for the U.S. were probably the failures to medal in speedskating, individual figure skating and men's hockey. Apparently we Americans need to spend more time on the ice.
Finally, the NBA trade deadline was a major bust, particularly for fans in Utah that wanted to see Jimmer Fredette freed from the disaster that is the Sacramento Kings.
How bad is Jimmer’s situation in Sacramento? After scoring a career-high 24 points and hitting 6-of-8 threes to help the Kings win in New York on Feb. 12, Fredette subsequently played just four minutes versus Golden State and then did not play at all versus Boston.
The only explanation is that the Kings know Fredette is bolting in the offseason as fast as humanly possible and so, now that the trade deadline has passed, they no longer have any reason to play him.
What we know for certain is that Jimmer being drafted by Sacramento proves once and for all that Austin Collie’s philosophy that sports magic happens when you are living right is totally bogus. Either that, or Jimmer is secretly a Miley Cyrus fan, in which case the basketball gods would be fully justified in sending him to the Oakland Raiders of the NBA.
Here’s hoping he ends up with a team next season that can take advantage of his strengths and, more importantly, that he is not a Miley Cyrus fan.
Nate Gagon is the author of the weekly sports column, Utah Sports Ruckus, and a contributor for the Deseret News. He is also a tech/media entrepreneur, shoots roughly 94% from the foul line, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @nategagon.