There are some players that received more publicity than others, namely BYU’s Yoeli Childs, Jake Toolson and TJ Haws.
Senior forward Childs led the team and WCC in points per game, averaging 22.2 on the season and 22.7 in conference play. He was also named as a top-five finalist for the 2020 Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award.
Senior guard Toolson also added his fair share of production, averaging 15.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. But Toolson is mostly recognized for his three-point shooting, as he was No. 3 in the nation making 47.1% of his shots. Toolson was awarded 2020 WCC Newcomer of the Year for his performance this season.
Senior Haws ranked third on the BYU scoring list, averaging 14.3 points and 5.8 assists per game. Haws contributed to three of BYU’s most-impactful wins on its NCAA tournament resume, first versus No. 21 Houston, then against Saint Mary’s and finally against San Diego when he assisted on the game-winning alley-oop to Childs. All three games were won off of game-winning buckets or assists from Haws, with Houston’s being a jumper at the buzzer and Saint Mary’s being a three with nine seconds in regulation. All three seniors — Childs, Haws and Toolson — received 2020 All-WCC First-Team honors for their execution on the court this season.
While these three Cougars may have been the most prominent leaders on the stat sheet, the “bench” big three often went unnoticed. This trio consisted of senior Zac Seljaas and sophomores Connor Harding and Gavin Baxter. Head coach Mark Pope often described these players as the ones that don’t show up on the stat sheet but were often the deciding factor in some of BYU’s big wins.
Seljaas described his role on the team as someone who is there to do the dirty work for the big scorers on the team. He acknowledged that Childs, Toolson and Haws often get double-teamed and trapped when playing against certain teams, but Seljaas’s job to create opportunities to shoot still stayed the same.
The senior guard averaged 6.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. The numbers may seem small in comparison to BYU’s other big scorers, but Seljaas’s impact always came when the team needed it the most.
On Feb. 29, Seljaas scored 12 points against Pepperdine in his final regular-season game as a Cougar. He had the second most behind Childs’ career-high, 38-point night, but just looking at the points wouldn’t tell of the impact Seljaas had that night.
The game was back and forth the entire night, but with six minutes left in the second half, Seljaas scored eight consecutive points to put BYU ahead 69-58 with four minutes left. BYU maintained the big lead for the remainder of the game. Seljaas hot-streak gave BYU the momentum it needed to pull ahead for good against its quad-two WCC opponent.
Coach Pope spoke on Seljaas’ attitude and work ethic after his performance against then No. 2 Gonzaga on Senior Night.
“He doesn’t hold anything back, he doesn’t,” Pope said. “He’s given his whole heart and soul and sacrifices so much for the team. He came in as a three-point marksman, and this is not his role on the team. I mean he’s still banging shots for us, but he’s just decided that he’ll do whatever it takes.”
Next off the bench is Harding, who averaged 6.3 points per game, shot 51.8% from the field and 44.2% from behind the arc. Harding wasn’t the type to score a ton of points and lead the stat sheet, but he was the one creating plays that gave players like Childs, Haws and Toolson opportunities to score points.
In an episode of “Deep Blue” on BYUtv, assistant coach Nick Robinson said, “He’s been willing to do whatever Coach Pope has asked him to do throughout the year, whatever role, whichever guy you know we need him to guard offensively and how he can best help the team.”
Finally, coming to the rescue recently is Baxter, who made his season debut on Feb. 8 due to a shoulder injury. At 6-feet-9 inches with a 7-foot-1 inch wingspan, Baxter was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball. He didn’t score many points for the Cougars, as he was getting back into his rhythm from being out for so long. Baxter ended his freshman season in 2019 averaging 4.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, shooting 64.8% from the field.
Coach Pope expressed how much he appreciated Baxter’s presence on the court after the Gonzaga matchup.
“I fought with him for four months and two weeks trying to talk him out of coming back,” Pope said. “And he’s like ‘No, I am coming back to help this team.’ And if Gavin Baxter didn’t come back, we don’t get that night, we don’t get this night. There was no guarantee he was gonna get tonight, but he came back with faith and just wanting to help his team.”
These players coming off the bench were not necessarily the “star” players fans immediately associate with BYU, but they were essential pieces on the roster for this historic season, and games couldn’t have been won without them, according to Pope.