PROVO — Elijah Bryant confidently launches high-arching bombs with a quick release and these downtown attempts are consistently finding a home game after game.
Where would BYU basketball be if two other talented, proven 3-point shooters — TJ Haws and Zac Seljaas — were burying net-snapping arrows from distance?
Bryant had a season-high 29 points in a win over Loyola Marymount on Thursday night. He went 5-for-8 from beyond the arc. Haws (2-for-5) and Seljaas (1-for-3) combined to go 3-for-8 from that ZIP code.
On Thursday, Haws played a team-high 37 minutes and made outstanding plays, dishing out six assists in the first half when he played more at the point after starter Jahshire Hardnett made a trip to the locker room.
Haws and Seljaas have had their deadly moments for Dave Rose. They are artists and have that reputation. But their best wrist-arm-hand mojo came back in the days when the Cougars were running and gunning.
It’s more complicated now.
“I think we’ve all sat down and talked about it and the data out there shows we have changed entirely the way we play,” said Cougar assistant coach Tim LaComb. “I think we are down 10 to 12 possessions a game this season.”
So, there are fewer opportunities.
And Bryant and Yoeli Childs have solidified themselves as the first two options in a deliberate, ball-sharing, multi-pass offense.
“I also think we are asking a lot more of these guys defensively than in years past," LaComb continued. "And one thing I can say about both Zac and TJ is they are better basketball players than they were their first years here. As far as all-around players, they do far more on the court to impact the game now than just score.”
LaComb says Seljaas has been “unbelievable” at facilitating and getting Childs the ball from the high post, a place he has to be respected defensively by opponents because of his shooting reputation.
“He stretches the floor because of what people saw him do his freshman year.”
Both Haws and Seljaas have a history. And their history is shooting. Haws has a range of half court, a shooting consistency that earned him all-league honors last year. Seljaas was one of the most accurate 3-point shooters in the country his freshman season.
“I’ve always believed good shooters and good scorers will always be good shooters and scorers. I don’t think you just lose it,” said LaComb. “Both of those guys may be in sort of a slump as far as adjusting to the pace and style of the game, but like last week, Zac hit some big shots in both games and TJ went 4-for-5 last Saturday.
“Through our history, we’ve had great shooters go through stretches where they struggled and we’ve always emphasized on them staying the course, trust what they do, continue to work on what they do and those guys score.”
LaComb said folks want to look at mid-season or third-of-a-season statistics and weigh in on what is happening.
“But a season is a process and a journey,” he said. “Once you get to the end of the season is the only real comparison you can make and I think those guys’ numbers at the end will be where you’d expect them to be — as will be their contribution as a whole to the team.”
LaComb said the personality of this year’s team is centered around a big ask that began nearly a year ago. They were asked to celebrate the successes of their teammates.
“That’s always somewhat of a challenge in a society that is, like, 'What have you done for me lately?’
“We started talking about being a good teammate back last April and I believe at the end of the day this is a team that's tough and together and is a disciplined group that really understands how we win and is selfless in how they care for others.
“It’s never perfect but the trend is to get better," LaComb continued. "We’ve had few if any bad practices all year long. It's just a businesslike group that is anxious to get out on the floor and work.”
The Cougars are 16-4 overall and 5-2 in WCC play, with San Diego coming to town Saturday.
When the Cougars lost a few pieces from the team a year ago, all they heard from some corners was how bad they were going to be. That projection floating around placed chips on the shoulders of players and coaches, LaComb said.11 comments on this story
“That’s something all of us took to heart and we are fighting every single day to be elite — that is what we want. It is a group that just comes to battle every single time and their mindset gets better every day. The bottom line is this team cares about each other and when that is genuine and true, you can do something special.”
So, the idea is, if somebody’s going through a shooting slump but doing their jobs to give Childs and Bryant better looks and make the team harder to defend, then things are working.
It just makes one wonder if everyone is zeroed in and if Rose gets Dalton Nixon (foot) back, what is the ceiling on a given night, be it against Saint Mary’s in a rematch or impending games with Gonzaga?
Simply put, they’ll need it all. They’ll need to be elite to be the WCC's best.