The BYU men’s basketball team exhibition season is over with the Cougars winning both of their games, but not in a dominant fashion.
The Cougars found themselves tied with Arizona Christian University at halftime and only defeated the University of Alaska by 13 points.
Head coach Dave Rose was visibly agitated after the Alaska game and called for an improved effort from his team.
“It’s amazing that you can practice 25 or 26 times and have your guys play a certain way,” Rose said following the win over Alaska. “But then for some reason you get to a game and it doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen in practice. Hopefully we can take what we have in practice and bring it to a game when the big lights are one.”
Rose had reason to be upset. The Cougars shot just 38 percent from the field and found themselves in a close game throughout the majority of the second half.
Things were much different in the Cougars’ first exhibition game against Arizona Christian. The Cougars struggled to stop ACU in the first half, but settling down in the second half and allowed just 31 points.
BYU also set an unofficial team record with 18 made 3-pointers. This was done without senior captains Kyle Collinsworth (knee tendinitis) and Chase Fischer (quad), who sat out of the game.
Now the Cougars are preparing to begin their regular season against the UVU on Nov. 13. With two drastically different performances already under their belts, there are some noteworthy things to takeaway:
Team Depth – Young Players Making an Impact
Health may be a concern for the Cougars this season. They’ve yet to be at full strength for a game. Against Alaska, Rose was without freshman guard Jordan Chatman (high ankle sprain), sophomore center Corbin Kaufusi (hamstring), sophomore forward Jamal Aytes (ankle) and junior forward Kyle Davis (ankle) due to nagging injuries.
Their absences have allowed younger players to play more significant minutes.
True freshman forward Braiden Shaw was a bright spot in both games. In 38 combined minutes he scored 14 points on 86 percent shooting. He also gathered in 13 rebounds, nine of which were offensive.
Shaw said that he isn’t worried about his role on the team in terms of playing time.
“My role is to give 100 percent,” Shaw said. “That’s all you can really do. You show up to practice and give 100 percent there and let it translate over to the game. Success will come with that effort.”
Sophomore guard Jake Toolson was also a contributor for the Cougars.
Against ACU he led the team in scoring with 23 points and hauled in six rebounds in 32 minutes. He didn’t have the same success against Alaska, but he still scored six points and added four rebounds in 25 minutes.
Toolson said that he wasn’t worried about his own numbers because the team is so unselfish.
“We have confidence among everyone on the team,” Toolson said. “We know that when it’s our time, we’ll make it. When it’s your time to be on, you jump up there and stick the shot. We’ll pass up a good shot for a great shot.”
True freshman forward Jakob Hartsock stepped up as well.
Hartsock has played 31 minutes over the two games and has shot the ball well. He’s scored 23 points on 53 percent shooting. He’s been able to stretch the floor at the forward position as well, shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line.
Hartsock said that his 3-point shooting was something he’s been practicing on.
“I’ve worked a lot on my outside shooting since being home,” Hartsock said at Media Day. “I’ve worked hard to be reliable on that, so I feel like that is a good strength of mine.”
Kyle Collinsworth Rusty?
Collinsworth made his season debut against Alaska and looked a little rusty. He committed four turnovers and often found it to be difficult getting to the basket. He finished the game with 14 points on 11 attempted shots.
Rose said that he was disappointed with the lack of urgency from his captains.
“Chase and Kyle have been so good with this group regarding energy level and their urgency. There wasn’t a lot of that tonight (against Alaska),” Rose said.
Collinsworth was named to the Bob Cousy Award watchlist in October. The senior also tallied six triple-doubles last season and averaged 13.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and six assists per game. He was ranked No. 21 on ESPN’s list of Top 100 college basketball players of 2015-2016.
With all of that in mind, it’s hard to imagine that the rust won’t come off sooner rather than later.
Senior forward Nate Austin praised Collinsworth’s return to game action.
“Kyle Collinsworth makes everyone’s job easier,” Austin said after the Alaska game. “He rebounds hard, he sees the floor well and he finds the open guy. It’s great having him back. I think our team gains a lot of confidence when he’s on the floor.”
The Cougars spent a lot of time this offseason trying to improve their woeful defense from last season. The Cougars have allowed an average of 69.5 points per game through their two exhibitions. This number isn’t all that far off from the 73.2 points per game the Cougars allowed last year.
The team hired Lone Peak High School head coach Quincy Lewis over the offseason. Lewis has taken over a lot of the defensive responsibilities for the team and Austin believes that Lewis’ coaching will eventually lead to an improved performance.
“His philosophy of not letting guys get to the hoop and making them hit difficult outside shots will be key to our success this year,” Austin said at Media Day. “He’s helped us step up our defensive game as a whole.”
Austin also didn’t mince words when asked what would be key for the Cougars this season.
“We’ll need to rely on our defense,” Austin said.
BYU held ACU and Alaska to just 36 percent shooting from the three-point line. The Cougars also out-rebounded them 90-66 and allowed only 25 free throws.
The Cougars are an extremely young team. Just four of the 16 players on the roster are upperclassmen and five of the 16 are true freshmen.
Rose says that the young players will have to step up as the team continues to grow.
“They need to have a real impact for our team,” Rose said. “It’s crucial that a group of those guys actually perform at a real high level and a consistent level. We’ll need some of those guys to step up and get into the regular rotation.”
BYU has the benefit of a relatively soft November schedule to get things in order before a showdown with Utah in Salt Lake City.
Rose said he’s prepared for the expected growing pains of a young team before acknowledging the need for significant improvement.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to be the team we want to be,” Rose said.