BYU Basketball: Does BYU really live and die by the three?

With one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country and a nonexistent post game, BYU’s five losses are commonly explained with one simple phrase: “if you live by the three, you die by the three.” There’s no doubt the Cougars live by the three–they average 9 three pointers made per game, good for  12th in the country. But when you look deeper into the three-point shooting stats of every loss, it’s not entirely clear that BYU has died by the three.

San Diego State

SDSU’s season 3-point defense: 27.7% (17th in the nation)

BYU’s performance: 38.5%

The Aztecs are one of the best 3-point defending teams BYU has played, allowing opponents to shoot a mere 27.7% from the arch (17th in the nation).  Yet, BYU was able to shoot a pretty-darn-good 43.3% from long range. With that kind of percentage, it’s tough to say that BYU “died by the three” against the Aztec’s in Maui. The real problem was BYU’s non-3-point shooting, since the Cougars shot 38.5% overall from the field. SDSU’s game plan was clear: dare BYU to shoot the three, but make them a one dimensional team by collapsing in the lane. The plan barely worked, as the Aztecs beat the Cougars in double overtime.

Prognosis: Died by the two.


Purdue’s season 3-point defense: 37.2% (296th in the nation)

BYU’s performance: 33%

The Cougars’ loss to the Boilermakers is the biggest head-scratcher of the season so far. Despite Purdue being a terrible 3-point defending team, BYU only managed to shoot a below-average (for them) 33% from three, including Chase Fischer going 2-for-11. After shooting lights out the previous night against Chaminade, it seems that BYU–and Fischer in particular–just went cold against Purdue, and it cost them the game. Although the Cougars were outplayed in several stats (such as rebounds and field goal percentage), it’s probably fair to say that BYU died by the three against the Boilermakers in Maui.

Prognosis: Died by the three.


Utah’s season 3-point defense: 32.7% (136th in the nation)

BYU’s performance: 35%

The Utes have an excellent defense (9ths best scoring defense in the country), but are only average against the three point shot (136th in the country). BYU shot an average 35% when they hosted the Utes, so it’s tough to say that this loss can be chalked up purely to poor three-point shooting. More logically, BYU fell to Utah because the Cougars somehow got to the foul line only 10 times. In any case, the fellas in red shot an abysmal 2-for-14 from downtown, so that game could have been much worse had BYU shot poorer and Utah shot better from three.

Prognosis: Died by the (lack of) free throws.


Zags’ season 3-pt defense: 31.6% (95th in the nation)

BYU’s performance: 28%

BYU didn’t shoot well from three against the Zags, but it’s tough to blame a loss to a tremendous team on just one thing. Ironically, what did the Cougars in the most was probably their own three point defense, as they allowed the Zags to shoot 42.1% from long range (one word: Pangos). Gonzaga also shot over 49% from the field overall, which also made it tough for BYU to pull off the upset.

Prognosis: Died by the three (both defensively and offensively)


Pepperdine’s season 3-pt defense: 24.1% (1)

BYU’s performance: 23.1%

Look at the numbers. BYU shot horribly and lost to a bad team. Like the Utah game, BYU strangely got to the free throw very few times (8), but this game was lost mostly because BYU couldn’t find the hoop from downtown.

Prognosis: Died by the three.


BYU’s only pure die-by-the-three losses were against Purdue and Pepperdine, by far the worst losses of the season. But three-point woes cannot take the full blame for BYU’s three “good losses.” Against SDSU, BYU lost despite shooting very well from three. Against Utah, BYU shot slightly below their average but ultimately lost because of their inability to get to the charity stripe. And against the Zags, BYU itself gave up too many threes as they tried to stop Gonzaga’s big guys.

So, while it’s true that cold three-point shooting and good defenses have robbed the Cougars of a few wins this season, not all of BYU’s losses can be chalked up to “live by the three, die by the three.”

About the author

Andy Kartchner

I have a Ph.D. in sports analytics. No I don’t. But I do have a law degree. And if there’s one thing I learned in law school, it’s how to write about sports.

I am Big Bro. My brother, Aaron (a.k.a. Little Bro), and I make up the Sports Bros, your one-stop shop for everything BYU sports.