Defensive adjustments lead to a strong finish for the Cougars

Eric Mika collects a rebound against Gonzaga. - William Mancebo

Over the course of the season Dave Rose and his coaching staff have made adjustments to the Cougars play that are starting to pay off. Despite mid-season setbacks, BYU is peaking at the right time.

BYU's defense, like the offense, has been pretty spotty this season. Giving up 100+ points is something the Cougars had not done since they beat Nevada 110-104 on December 22, 2009. This season the Cougars have allowed their opponents to score 100 or more points four times, three of those four games were losses. They have also allowed a handful of opposing players career nights from the three-point line.

As far as individual games are concerned, the low point of the season came in a loss 11 games ago on January 23rd against the Portland Pilots. The Pilots scored 114 points against the Cougars, the last time the boys in blue have given up more was November 21, 1986 against Oklahoma when they lost 110-119. The Cougars took the Pilots into triple overtime and then two nights later dropped their game at Gonzaga.

However, Dave Rose and his coaching staff have made some adjustments in the latter part of the season that have made BYU a #2 seed in the West Coast Conference tournament,and still in the discussion for the big dance later this month. Starting with Carlino coming off the bench against San Diego on January 4th, in a move that benefited the offense, this article will focus on defensive adjustments in the latter part of the season.

THE LAST NINE GAMES

In the last nine games BYU has a record of 8-1, the best nine game stretch all season. Starting with the Pacific game January 30, opposing teams have been scoring 8 fewer points (down from 79.2 PPG to 71.2 PPG) and shooting nearly 1 fewer three-pointer per game (down from 7.9 3PFG to 7.0 PPG). The lone hiccup in this nine game stretch came at Pacific on February 13th. The Tigers scored 89 points, shot 52 percent from the field, and hit 10 treys.

THE LAST FOUR GAMES

The last four games have seen even more defensive adjustments with Anson Winder starting at the 2-spot and, most notably, Eric Mika playing off the bench. Winder provides better defense on the guard line and has shown that he can score points when he is given the minutes. Both Josh Sharp and Luke Worthington have started games in place of Eric Mika. In each case they have picked up a couple of fouls within the first few minutes of the game, and therein lay the brilliancy of this adjustment made by head coach Dave Rose.

Mika can be a beast down low, offensively and defensively, for BYU; but his inexperience often shows when he picks up a couple of quick fouls and then is taken out of the game for the rest of the half. By starting the game on the bench, Mika is able to watch how the game is being called by the refs before ever stepping on the hardwoods. It is easier for him to adjust to the refereeing by watching from the bench rather than in the moment on the court. As a result, Mika has stayed out of foul trouble and has been able to play his game through to the end. Additionally, Sharp and Worthington have benefited from the extra minutes and elevated their levels of play.

CONCLUSION

BYU is playing better defense, both as a team and individually. The Cougars are peaking at the right time of the season and if they carry this momentum into the WCC Tournament, then they will be in a solid position to do some damage. A good showing at the conference tournament will propel them into the NCAA Tournament.

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