By: Russell Cragun
The BYU Cougars are currently riding a five game winning streak, the last two wins coming on the road. This next week, the Cougars will be traveling to face the Portland Pilots and the always tough Gonzaga Bulldogs. These games will close out a road trip that the Cougars have been on for their previous four games.
The Cougars are undefeated against the Pilots and have met with them nine times, the first of which was back in 1957. On the season the Pilots are 11-8 and average 77.4 PPG and are 40th in the nation for assists. The Pilots recently defeated previously ranked Gonzaga and have proven that they can run with the nation’s best by going toe to toe with Michigan State in East Lansing.
Gonzaga, who currently leads the WCC, are 16-3 on the season and 6-1 in the WCC, with that one loss coming from previously mentioned Portland. The Zags are second in the nation in shooting percentage with a .513 shooting percentage and average 81.3 points a game. They love shooting 3-pointers and average .425 from behind the arc. The Cougars have had their hands full with the Zags and have not beaten them since February 2012.
If the Cougars are going to want to defeat both teams and come back to the Marriott Center on a winning streak the Cougars are going to have improve a couple of things:
If Coach Rose expects his team to remain competitive and win these games, his team cannot get into foul trouble. Against Santa Clara, Tyler Haws picked up two fouls within the first minute of the game, and could not play again till the second half. Lucky for the Cougars, the team was on fire and shot 61.5% and 69% from the arc. Don’t expect that kind of shooting percentage against these two teams.
Nate Austin and Eric Mika have a habit of getting into foul trouble in the second half. Eric Mika has had flashes of immaturity this season that have cost the team a couple technical fouls, and was even ejected in the game against Utah. If the Cougars want to beat Gonzaga Mika and Austin must stay out of trouble early on.
The Zags love shooting the deep ball, and they’re good at it too. They make over 40% of all the 3-pointers they attempt, which is something that the Cougars are horrible at defending. Bad 3-point defense can be credited to a couple of their losses. If Haws, Carlino, and Collinsworth can seal off the deep ball and make them play an inside game against Mika and Austin, we have a much greater chance of beating the Zags. The last thing we want is to fall far behind and watch Carlino and Haws shoot countless regrettable shots.
Keep Control of The Game
On Saturday night we saw how quickly and effectively BYU can score against Santa Clara. They took a 20+ point lead a couple of times. However, they kept allowing the Broncos to come back and make the game close. The Broncos went on a couple of runs of 8+ points and made the Cougars sweat it out a bit. The Cougars will need to keep the game at their tempo the entire time and control the boards. The Cougars were outrebounded 40-29 against San Francisco. BYU leads the WCC in rebounds which they must prove they can do again in order to keep the game in their hands.
Stay Calm and Focused
Tyler Haws and company have a problem of staying calm and collective in bigger games. When the team traveled to Utah, the environment and noise level rattled them. This is why they were never really able to compete and keep their composure. Tyler Haws also has a case of “Lebronitious” where he disappears in big games. We have seen it this season against Wichita St where he shot .166 from the field. And lets not forget Haws’ performance against the Zags last year where he put up 1 point and shot a whopping 0% from the field, going 0-10.
Matt Carlino is Key
We have seen him flourish and improve since becoming the team’s sixth man. He does not seem as stressed and his mistakes and bad shots are becoming a thing of the past. The Cougars are going to need him to stay that way and not dig a hole for the rest of the team. Carlino dished out 9 assists against Santa Clara on Saturday and really controlled the floor and tempo of the second half. If he comes out looking like that and distributing the ball evenly, the Cougars are a different team and can compete with anyone. But if he comes out popping desperation threes early, the team will have a lot of trouble staying in these big games.
Obviously the Cougars need to play their best games this week to win, but a win over Portland and Gonzaga can give BYU control over the WCC as they are currently only one game behind the Zags in the conference. If BYU comes out on top of this road trip then their next 7 out of 9 games will be at home giving them a good chance at making it to the big dance.