The first half was chippy. BYU and USF were going hard at each other. But BYU won that half 48-39 and things were looking good at halftime. Then things changed dramatically in the second half.
USF patiently worked the ball around against the BYU zone and took open threes when they got them. The result? USF went 9-10 from three in the half. With the Dons on fire from three things, started opening up in the middle too. In the end the Dons outscored BYU 60-39 (!) in the second half and won the game 99-87.
You would be hard pressed to find a more impressive shooting display in a half by a visitor to the Marriott Center. Sixty points in a half? Sixty?! That is astonishing. And it was not like BYU didn't try to guard them. BYU ran at guys as usual. But USF was simply on fire. The hotter USF got the more tense BYU got. Eventually the wheels came off.
BYU has relied almost exclusively on the zone defense this season and that finally came back to bite them in this game. The zone is always susceptible to three point shots, but until now no team has gotten this hot from three.
The problem for BYU was that they simply weren't good enough at man to man defense. When BYU switched to man defense USF scored inside with ease. Dave Rose felt compelled to go back to the zone and try mixing up his lineup to slow the white-hot Dons. But in that second half, nothing worked. That's the thing about threes -- they are a powerful weapon when you are hitting them. And in this game USF was hitting them at an astonishing clip. Meanwhile BYU kept up its pattern of mostly missing threes.
The end result was a second consecutive painful WCC loss for BYU. The Cougs now have to battle to stay in 3rd place in the WCC. Further, BYU will need to win the WCC auto-bid in the conference tournament to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
If there is any silver lining it is the reminder that teams can get hot from three and steal any game. Maybe BYU can get hot at the right time this year too. Not likely, but there is always a chance.
Here are some random thoughts about the game and team:
- Bronson Kaufusi put in his best performance of the season. He played aggressively and with confidence and gave BYU a big boost off the bench in the first half.
- Brock Zylstra had a terrific first half as well. He was the leading scorer in the half with 13 points for BYU. Unfortunately he largely disappeared for BYU in the second (along with the rest of the team), but Brock was still BYU's leading scorer with 18 on the night.
- Tyler Haws had a sub-par game by his standards. USF mauled him all night, like most WCC teams do, but on this night he was in no mood to deal with it. He picked up a technical foul for shoving a guy in the first half and took a lot of forced, ugly shots throughout the game. He finished with 16 points but that was on 4-16 from the field.
- Brandon Davies seemed a bit lethargic all night. He finished with 13 points but never had that moment where he was dominating like we are used to seeing.
- Matt Carlino got into foul trouble early and only saw 5 minutes in the first half. He played more in the second half but it was not a particularly good showing for him tonight. He finished with 10 points on 4-12 shooting.
- BYU got a nice contribution from Cory Calvert tonight. The freshman had been glued to the bench for several games before tonight.
- Craig Cusick had a solid outing going 3-3 from three and scoring 12 points on a night when BYU needed the scoring badly.
- USF shot 57% overall and.. wait for it... 61% from three on the night. You aren't going to see a stat line like that very often.
- BYU shot 42% from the field and 31% from three. Sadly, you will see a stat line like that from BYU very often.
It seems that BYU fell prey to some bad luck (USF getting amazingly hot from three) and to familiarity (USF knowing BYU relies almost wholly on zone defense this season) in the loss tonight. What can Dave Rose do to prevent the same thing happening again? He doesn't have to do much to prevent a team from going 12-13 from three (which was the streak USF went on). That shooting display was largely an anomaly. Most teams couldn't go 12-13 in a shoot around if their lives depended on it. But Rose can get his team to work on their man defense. That clearly needs to be better to slow the long ball.
This season isn't over. The beauty of college hoops is that if a team gets hot at the right time they can go far. But BYU's window of opportunity has been shrinking this week.