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Madeline Mortensen, BYU
BYU men's basketball team plays against Houston at the Marriott Center on Nov. 24, 2018. Madeline Mortensen/BYU PHOTO 2018 All Rights Reserved

SAN DIEGO — Not only does senior guard McKay Cannon understand his role on the BYU basketball team, but he’s also filling that role in impressive fashion.

Cannon has been an unsung contributor for the Cougars as a defensive stopper and an efficient offensive performer.

“My role has been kind of made for me, to guard the best guard on the other team. My job is to do my best to take them out of what they do really well,” Cannon said. “Some of the best guards in the country are in this league. The coaches have done a great job of giving me a specific plan and I’ve done the best I can to do whatever the game plan is. It’s fun to do whatever I can on the defensive end and when shots are there on the offensive end, to take advantage of it.”

BYU entered West Coast Conference play in early January wallowing in a three-game losing streak. Coach Dave Rose decided to insert Cannon, a 6-foot, 185-pounder from Shelley, Idaho, into the starting lineup as a way to provide a defensive edge, leadership and experience to the Cougars. He's been a starter ever since.

In league play, Cannon is averaging 4.5 points, shooting 53 percent from the floor, including 48 percent (11 of 23) from 3-point range.

“McKay, you look at his conference stats, he’s playing as well as any guard in the conference with his numbers,” Rose said. “He’s shooting over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3. He’s got 21 assists and four turnovers. Defensively, he’s just been a gem.”

Before arriving at BYU, prior to the 2017-18 season, Cannon played a couple of years at Weber State. He realized that if he was going to vie for playing time with the Cougars, he needed to embrace a defensive mentality.

“A lot of it has to do with being competitive. If you want to win a game, you have to guard. You can’t shoot your way out of everything,” Cannon said. “In my case, I wasn’t playing the amount of time I wanted to play at Weber and I needed to bring that here.

“There’s a lot of great offensive players on this team and I needed to be me. Defense is what I’ve been able to provide for this team,” he continued. “I’ve definitely gotten a lot stronger. It’s hard to guard at this level. The officials call the game really tight. You have to learn the tricks of the craft, to know what you can get away with and what you can’t get away with.”

Cannon will be counted on Thursday (8 p.m., MST, AT&T SN Rocky Mountain) at Jenny Craig Pavilion to help defend San Diego’s talented guard line of Olin Carter III and Isaiah Wright.

“We’ve got to come in with a chip on our shoulder and bring a defensive mentality, especially on the road. Defense travels," Cannon said. "Sometimes you’re not comfortable on the road getting shots. But if you can bring your defense, it can get you through some tough times offensively.”

Certainly, Cannon has found his niche.

“Coaches break down what players do. It’s coming every day to practice, wanting to defend,” he said. “Then it becomes a habit. If you can consistently guard each and every day at practice and take pride in it, it’s something that becomes a habit. I try to do that and I hope it pays dividends.”

The Cougars have experienced a roller coaster of a campaign in Cannon’s final season.

“It’s been quite the ride. We’ve got a great group of guys. We’ve had some ups and downs, especially early on. This season has been great,” Cannon said. “We’ve learned a lot. Hopefully we can finish the season strong and we can have the program build on this in the future. That’s what I hope this season is about.”

Cannon played in the NCAA Tournament when he was at Weber State, making him one of only three BYU players with NCAA Tournament experience. He's enjoyed taking on a leadership role with this team.

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“It’s been different being that leader out there. The guys know I’ve been through a lot of experiences. I’ve played in March Madness," he said. "I feel like I’ve gone through it all, from starting to not starting. I hope I can be a source of knowledge to anyone in any situation.”

As a senior, Cannon feels a sense of urgency as the season winds down. BYU, which is in second place in the WCC standings, has just five regular-season games remaining.

“You try to make the most of it,” he said. “I don’t want it to end. I want to enjoy it and let it happen.”

• . • . •

Cougars on the air

BYU (16-10, 8-3)

at San Diego (16-9, 5-5)

Thursday, 8 p.m. MST

Jenny Craig Pavilion

TV: AT&T SN Rocky Mountain

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM