PROVO — Through 23 games played this season, the book was pretty much written on how to defend BYU. But following breakout games from freshman Gavin Baxter and junior guard Nick Emery, some heavy edits might be accompanying that book in the coming weeks and for the rest of the season.
And that's a good thing, particularly for Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws, two players who have received a bevy of opposition defensive focus in recent weeks, although the entire team stands to benefit.
Opposing teams have taken to shutting down Childs in recent games, and just Childs, given the junior forward's production in contrast to the sparse points scored by other BYU frontcourt players throughout most of the season. Gonzaga threw hard double teams at the 6-foot-9 Bingham product last Thursday with Loyola Marymount mirroring the effort on Saturday, although the Cougars managed to get by the Lions 67-49.
The difference was the production of Baxter, who led the Cougars with 25 points scored while making a huge impact in the win over Loyola Marymount.
Baxter isn't likely to sneak up with that level of production again this season, and most likely will receive greater defensive focus when the Cougars travel to take on Portland on Thursday night (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2).
"The biggest challenge (for him) will be that he'll now be in the scouting report," said BYU coach Dave Rose on what changes now for Baxter. "They'll take away a lot of (what he can do), but that will really help us. They can't make such a commitment to (defending) Yoeli."
Childs scored just six points against LMU last Saturday, but only attempted seven shots, largely because he didn't have to attempt more. Baxter shouldered most of the load inside, giving BYU's star forward some much-needed relief.
Things should open up a bit more for Childs moving forward, however, should Baxter continue to prove productive.
"After a game like that, teams are going to have to probably change up their defensive schemes somewhat," Baxter said. "They've been doubling Yoeli, so a lot of times that leads to open shots for other guys, and so if I can continue to perform well that's just going to open more things up."
Getting open in the right spots has been a challenge for Baxter, according to Rose, and was one of the aspects that limited his play early on in the season.
"He has a better feel down there," Rose said. "He's never really played down there. He's been a perimeter guy or a guy who's gotten the ball in the high post ... We've got him playing a lot different than he has, but I think he's starting to feel a lot more comfortable."
Rose hopes other things continue to open up, beyond the aspects relevant to breakthrough games from both Baxter and Emery.4 comments on this story
"It helps us on the defensive end, too," Rose said. "I just believe that having (Baxter's) presence down there, with his ability to move around and block shots, and then Nick's ability to make plays on the perimeter."
The Cougars will return home to take on Pacific on Saturday, marking a rare occasion where the two West Coast Conference games during the week aren't both either at home or on the road.
"It will be a little bit better because we've played Pacific," Rose said. "We know the challenge and we know what they do."