Mens’ basketball season ends in shootout, future remains bright

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The BYU basketball team’s season came to a disappointing end last week with its First Four loss to Ole Miss, but 2014-2015 was a highly-entertaining season for Cougar hoops fans despite the unfortunate finish.

High/Low Points

Elliott Miller
Skyler Halford attempts to make a layup during BYU’s game against Ole Miss. (Elliott Miller)

Basketball is a game of runs, and accordingly, this was a very up-and-down season for BYU. These are a few of the many moments of both extremes:

The Cougars shot much better from 3-point range this season, thanks in part to the addition of Chase Fischer. His single-game record 10 triples led BYU to its highest-scoring game this year, a 121-85 win over Chaminade in the Maui Invitational.

“The hoop was really big for me,” Fischer said after the game. “I’m glad my teammates were finding me, and the ball was going in the hoop.”

Skyler Halford, Anson Winder, Tyler Haws and Jake Toolson also helped Fischer from beyond the arc in big WCC wins over San Francisco, Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara and Portland.

But if you live by the three, you also die by the three, and that is exactly what happened for the Cougars. BYU seems to struggle against a different mediocre conference opponent every season, and this time it was Pepperdine. In their two 6-point losses to the Waves, the Cougars shot a combined 10-for-43 from deep.

The Cougars found themselves in fourth place in the WCC after their second Pepperdine loss. They then proceeded to win their next eight games, including one of the biggest wins in program history – a 73-70 road victory over then-No. 3 Gonzaga. Although they couldn’t recreate that incredible upset in the conference tournament final, the Cougars’ first win in Spokane helped fuel a growing rivalry between them and the Zags.

Unfortunately, the roller-coaster season ended on a low note. BYU had a 17-point lead over Ole Miss at halftime of their opening-round NCAA tournament game, but they allowed the Rebels to score a whopping 62 2nd-half points and ended up losing 94-90.

“It hurts to end this way,” Haws said following the loss. He finished with 30 points in what became his final college basketball game.

New Scoring Leader

Jimmer Fredette’s BYU all-time scoring record didn’t last very long, as Haws became the Cougars’ new career points leader against Portland on Feb. 26. He averaged 22.2 points-per-game this season for a total of 776. Add that to the 1,944 from his first three seasons and it comes to 2,720, easily eclipsing Fredette’s four-year sum of 2,599.

“To break a record like that is a pretty special thing,” Haws said after BYU’s win over Portland in which he passed Fredette. “I owe all the credit to my coaches and my teammates. I just love being at BYU and it’s a really cool feeling right now.”

Haws was uncannily consistent over his three post-mission campaigns, scoring between 767 and 780 points each season. That reliability will be sorely missed in the future.

The Six Triple-Double Man

Kyle Collinsworth proved this year that we have the technology to repair serious injuries. He was unable to play in BYU’s NCAA tournament game last season due to an ACL tear he suffered in the WCC championship. He then spent the off-season rehabbing and strengthening his knee following surgery.

“Looking back a year ago, I just remember sitting on the couch raising my leg up 1,000 times a day,” Collinsworth said following BYU’s WCC semifinal victory. “I love this game, and I’m just grateful that I get to play again.”

Naturally, Collinsworth finished the year setting the NCAA single-season triple-double record. Collinsworth’s six triple-doubles also tied the NCAA career record held by Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Anderson. No other player in the nation had more than a single triple-double this year.

Role Players

The Cougars got significant help from several players not named Haws and Collinsworth at crucial moments this year. Winder was BYU’s second-leading scorer early on before succumbing to a variety of injuries. Halford picked up the slack midway through the season to provide the Cougars with some much-needed energy during the most difficult part of the year. Josh Sharp entered the starting lineup with six regular-season games to go, and BYU won each of those games thanks to his tough defensive and tenacious rebounding.

Finally, newcomers Toolson, Dalton Nixon and Ryan Andrus impacted games at different times, but none was more important to the team than Corbin Kaufusi. The former BYU footballer’s rapid basketball growth was readily apparent throughout the season. He started as a freak athlete who clearly didn’t know what he was capable of, and he turned into a skilled center with promising offensive moves and excellent defensive abilities.

“Corbin’s improvement is a huge part of the success of our team,” BYU coach Dave Rose said at the WCC tournament. “His ability to protect the rim is really good and he’s just a physical presence in there.”

Kaufusi still has a lot of room for improvement, and based on what he did this year he will likely become a star for the Cougars in the coming seasons.

Looking Ahead

BYU is losing seniors Haws, Halford, Sharp and Winder to graduation this year, and they will not be easy to replace. Coach Dave Rose will likely look to Collinsworth, Fischer and Kaufusi to make up some of the scoring his team will lose, but there is a handful of newcomers who might also make an impact. Forwards Kyle Davis and Jamal Aytes will finally get to play after sitting out the required one-year transfer minimum and, in Aytes’ case, a lot of injury time. Nate Austin will also be back after losing most of his senior season to an injury, and Cory Calvert and Jordan Chatman are returning from a mission and redshirt season respectively.

Perhaps most exciting for Cougar fans, however, is the arrival of two true newcomers: Nick Emery and Zac Seljaas. Emery comes to the team following an injury-shortened mission, before which he led Lone Peak to the national No. 1 ranking among high school basketball teams. Seljaas comes straight from Bountiful High School where he won back-to-back 4A state championships. Next year’s Cougars boast 13 high school state titles and seven Gatorade Player of the Year awards.

The 2014-15 BYU basketball season turned out to be a fun and exciting season after all was said and done, and while expectations may not necessarily be high, the potential is there for another magical year in 2015-16.

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