Wednesday, October 21, 2020

No. 15 men’s, women’s basketball head to Vegas after impressive seasons

The 2019-20 BYU men’s basketball season has been a whirlwind, ranging from injuries and suspensions to beating top teams in the nation, while the women’s campaign gained momentum as the season grew older.

The men’s season began with senior Yoeli Childs’ NCAA suspension after paperwork errors following his decision to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to BYU for his senior season. The NCAA prohibited Childs from playing in the first nine non-conference games for the 2019-20 season. Childs averaged 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds the previous season.

Injuries also plagued the team before the season started with senior TJ Haws’ knee injury, senior Zac Seljaas’ broken foot and sophomore Gavin Baxter’s shoulder injury, which required him to miss the majority of the season. Haws and Seljaas didn’t miss any regular-season games, but Baxter wasn’t so lucky, as he made his season debut against San Francisco on Feb. 8.

In the nine non-conference games without Childs, BYU went 6-3 against some of its toughest opponents of the year. The team’s first big win of the season came in Houston, when BYU beat the Cougars 72-71 off a game-winning jumper from Haws. Houston is now ranked No. 21 in the AP Poll behind BYU. The Cougars also beat No. 27 UCLA and Virginia Tech at the Maui Jim Invitation, adding two quad-two wins to the BYU’s resume.

Jake Toolson scans the floor as drives to his right during BYU’s win over No. 2 Gonzaga. (Hannah Miner)

But the losses BYU suffered were especially heartbreaking. The first loss was to now No. 5 San Diego State in the Marriott Center, losing 76-71 without Childs’ aid. The other losses were to Boise State in a thrilling 72-68 overtime loss and to now No. 1 Kansas at the Maui Invitational. BYU eventually went on to win more non-conference games, such as Utah State and Nevada, but also lost to Utah 105-98 in overtime. Out of the four total non-conference losses, three were decided by seven points or less.

While non-conference play could be seen as a series of up-and-downs, BYU’s conference play was anything but mediocre. BYU boasts a 13-3 conference record and 24-7 overall record, but the Cougars’ winning record didn’t come without struggles and upsets. After a 63-38 win over Loyola Marymount in the conference opener in Provo, BYU fell to rival Saint Mary’s 87-84 in an overtime loss. This loss came without Childs’ help, as he dislocated his finger in practice a few days before the matchup. Childs then sat out the next three games, which included wins versus Portland and San Diego, but a 92-69 loss to No. 2 Gonzaga.

With Childs back in the lineup the next week, BYU still lost to San Francisco 82-81. This is the only time BYU lost with Childs playing the entire game. After San Francisco, the Cougars went on a nine-game win streak to finish out the season, the longest regular-season conference win streak since the 2007-08 season.

In those nine games, BYU defeated rival Saint Mary’s 81-79 in Provo after Haws hit a game-winning three with nine seconds on the clock, his second game-winning shot of the season. If not for Haws’ two game winners, BYU’s NCAA tournament resume wouldn’t be anywhere near as impressive, as Houston and Saint Mary’s are two of BYU’s highest-caliber wins.

The win over the Gaels wouldn’t be the Cougars’ biggest win of the season. On Feb. 22, No. 23 BYU defeated No. 2 Gonzaga 91-78 in the Marriott Center on Senior Night in the first ranked matchup between the two teams in series history. The win came after BYU received its first ranking in the AP Poll since the 2011 season. BYU moved up to No. 17 in the poll after the win, and currently sit at No. 15.

The Cougars finished the regular season with a win over quad-two opponent Pepperdine on Feb 29, securing the No. 2 seed going into the WCC tournament. Not only is BYU finishing the season ranked No. 15 in the poll, but the Cougars also went 8-0 in February games, the first time BYU has gone undefeated in the month of February in program history. BYU also finished conference with its NCAA NET ranking at No. 10, the highest ranking for the Cougars so far this season.

Alex Barcello lays the ball in during BYU basketball’s win over Pepperdine. (Addie Blacker)

Compared to its WCC opponents, BYU finished the season leading in three-point shooting percentage, making 42.4% of shots taken. BYU is also ranked No. 1 in the country in three-point shooting, and has maintained that spot for the past several weeks. The Cougars also lead the WCC in assists per game with 17.7, while coming in at No. 2 in scoring and field goal percentage, with 80.6 points per game and shooting 50.4% from the field.

Also notable on the leaderboard is Gonzaga, which won the WCC outright and has been ranked nationally in the top 10 for the entirety of the season. Gonzaga boasts a 15-1 conference record, 29-2 overall, and leads the WCC in points per game, rebounds, field goal percentage and steals. The Zags claim No. 2 in assists and blocks per game. If BYU wins its semifinal game, it will most likely meet Gonzaga in the title game on Mar. 10.

As for individual accolades, Childs tops the leaderboard in points per game with 22.2 and rebounds per game with 8.9. Childs is second in the WCC in field goal percentage, shooting 58.1%. But as a whole, Childs, Haws and senior Jake Toolson all cracked the top-10 in points per game.

For three-point shooting, junior Alex Barcello and Toolson claimed No. 1 and No. 2 on the list above Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert, shooting 48.6% and 47.1%, respectively.

Coming into the 2019-20 season there was uncertainty on how the team would compare against the teams it played. With a completely new coaching staff, transfers Barcello and Toolson added to the starting lineup and last year’s disappointing output, the uncertainty was warranted.

But the Cougars came out to prove themselves, despite the various roadblocks along the way. After having one of the best regular-seasons in almost a decade, the Cougars find themselves as a No. 2 heading into the WCC tournament, looking to play their first postseason game on March 9 in the semifinals where they hope to see the women’s team on the court for their own match up earlier that day.

BYU women’s basketball head coach Jeff Judkins leads Cougars to a strong finish, snagging third place in the West Coast Conference.

Paisley Johnson shoots a 3-pointer during BYU’s win over LMU on Feb. 29 in the Marriott Center. (Hannah Miner)

The Cougars started the season off slow with a 7-7 record after 14 games. What looked like a disappointing start after going 11-3 in the first 14 games just the season before was quickly turned around after the Cougars won six straight before finishing the final eight games with a 5-3 record. BYU would finish the regular season with a 13-5 conference record while going 18-10 overall, finishing only behind Gonzaga and San Diego in the WCC.

The Cougars were led in scoring this season by junior Paisley Johnson and senior Brenna Chase Drollinger. Johnson is averaging 15.2 points per contest and Chase Drollinger is adding 12.3 points.

Johnson shot the ball extremely well all season and is leading the guards in shooting with 40.4 percent from within the arch and 38.7 percent from beyond the arch.

The Cougars proved to be a team that was fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball, with 6-foot-7 center Sara Hamson leading the way defensively. Hamson lead the Cougars in rebounding this season with 8.1 and finished the season with 133 blocked shots. Hamson is leading the NCAA in blocks per game with 4.6.

Opponents scored an average of 54.5 points per game against the Cougars, while the Cougars put up an average of 60.5 points per game against their opponents, outscoring their opponents on average by six points points per contest.

The Cougars are preparing for the West Coast Conference tournament with high hopes of repeating what they did in 2019.

The Cougars made their way back to the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since 2016 by winning the West Coast Conference tournament championship.

The Cougars outlasted Gonzaga in the conference championship with the final score of 82-68.

BYU’s 2018-19 season ended in the NCAA tournament with a second round 72-63 loss to Stanford.

No. 11 Gonzaga will likely be a familiar face in the West Coast Conference tournament for BYU. Gonzaga was led this year in scoring by junior guard Jill Townsend.

Townsend had seven points, three rebounds and added two assist in a Gonzaga win over BYU earlier this season in their first contest. In the second matchup of BYU vs Gonzaga, Townsend added 16 points and three rebounds in what led to another Gonzaga victory.  

Brenna Chase Drollinger celebrates a 3-pointer against LMU on Feb. 29. Chase Drollinger was one of four players playing in their final home game. (Hannah Miner)

Another worthy matchup to watch for in the West Coast Conference tournament will be BYU vs San Diego. San Diego ended up in second in the WCC standings with BYU taking third.

The Cougars are 1-1 against San Diego this year. In the first matchup the Cougars won 52-36, led by senior guard Chase Drollinger who finished this matchup with 13 points and 9 rebounds.

San Diego won the second matchup over BYU by six points. San Diego was led by strong scoring off the bench courtesy of Leticia Soares who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

BYU is coming off a big win at home over LMU when it celebrated senior day by winning 57-42 over the Lions.

No. 3 seeded BYU will likely face off with No. 6 seeded Pepperdine in the quarterfinals, but No. 7 seeded Saint Mary’s and No. 10 seeded LMU are also possibilities for the Cougars. The Cougars posted a perfect 6-0 record against these opponents this season, winning by an average score of 62-49.

The Cougars saw themselves walk out of Malibu with a 22-point win over Pepperdine in the teams’ first matchup, but second matchup didn’t come easy for BYU. BYU was down 64-63 until Johnson made a pair of free throws that gave BYU a one-point lead with a little over 30 seconds remaining in the game.

Coach Judkins subbed Sara Hamson back into the game in hopes to get a defensive stop to end the game. The final desperation shot for Pepperdine was taken by Mia Satie on the baseline — a well-guarded shot the resulted in an airball. Jasmine Moody of BYU handled the loose ball and was fouled with one second remaining. Moody sunk one of the two free throws, and the desperate half-court shot by Pepperdine was no good. The Cougars would hold onto a close one, winning by just one bucket, 66-64.

If BYU wins its quarterfinal matchup, part three of the BYU vs. San Diego trilogy would take place in The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, March 9 at 2 p.m.

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