A roller coaster ride is the closest description that can be placed on the 2013-14 Cougars' basketball season. The players and coaches provided big shots, big games, big loses, and big let downs for a fan base that hung on every game and every play. If you break down the season you might be able to find a play that turned a game or a game that turned the momentum. You might even be able to find a decision that turned the tide of the season. Let's take a look at some possibilities:
With a season of so many up and downs there were numerous plays that could be pointed at to define the Cougars season. Who will forget Matt Carlino stealing the in-bounds pass, and getting it to Haws for a layup, to send a game into overtime? We can't forget Tyler Haws shooting, and hitting, a running three at a halftime buzzer to send Cougar fans into a frenzy. As much as we would like to forget the six minute scoreless drought to end regulation in Las Vegas, it still happened and it helped play a part in the Cougars season.
Even though these plays didn't define the Cougars season, could the big games that were won and lost make the difference in the season? The Cougars played a number of big games on the year and anyone of those could have been looked at as season changers. Wins against Stanford, Texas, Saint Mary's, and Gonzaga headline the good wins while losses against Wichita State, Iowa State, Oregon, and Gonzaga still haunt the Cougars. The most emotional loss could be the beat down they received at the hands of rival Utah. Not only did the Cougars get beat by a team that was supposed to be rebuilding, the loss helped propel them on a four game losing streak that included Oregon, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. Even though these games were big, they still didn't define the cougars, but they did help contribute.
In the midst of the four game losing streak, Coach Dave Rose and his coaching staff made a decision that may have changed the face of the season. Coach Rose was looking for a way to motivate his team and pull them out of a downward spiral that would be disastrous to a season already in peril. At the time of the decision, the Cougars star point guard was struggling with his shot and decision making so the coaching staff made the difficult decision to bring Matt Carlino off the bench. Fans were irate and calling for the coaches head as he replaced the star with the little known Skylar Halford.
The first game of the experiment turned out well for Coach Rose as Halford came in and scored 28 points to help the Cougars end their losing streak in a blow out win in the Marriott Center. Halford played well for a few games and then had his own ups and downs during the year. Although many may compare how Halford did as Carlino's replacement, the key to the decision wasn't how Carlino was replaced, but how it affected Carlino and his game. No one can ever dispute the fact the Cougars need Carlino and his game to be successful, but the Cougars need him at the top of his game. In bringing Carlino off the bench, Coach Rose hoped to not only provide a spark off the bench but to also help Carlino make better decisions and lead the Cougars like everyone knows he can. Many were doubtful that this would work and before looking at some of the numbers, it looks like it could have been smoke and mirrors. After looking at the numbers it is hard to argue that the decision saved the Cougars season.
Carlino started 15 games in the regular season before heading to the bench and in that time he averaged 28.8 minutes per game. In those minutes, he committed 44 turnovers which comes out to almost 2.9 a game or one turnover every 9.8 minutes. He also had 68 assists for an average of 4.5 per game or one assist for every 6.4 minutes. in the first 15 games he took 223 shot attempts, one every 1.9 minutes, and made 82 of them for a shooting percentage of roughly 36.7 percent. Carlino is a better player than his numbers implied and Coach Rose knew this, thus prompting the change.
In the following 16 regular season games, the numbers told a different story. Carlino played 409 minutes over the next 16 games for an average of 25.6 minutes per game. His turnovers went down to 21, or 1.3 per game, and one turnover every 19.5 minutes. In less minutes, he increased his assists to 74, or 4.63 per game, and one assist every 5.5 minutes. Off the bench Carlino managed his shots more effectively and only took 152, one every 2.7 minutes, and made 68 for a shooting percentage of 44.7.
With the improvement in Carlino's play, the players and coaches rallied behind him and have put the team in a position to be successful in the post season. Although many factors need to be taken into account, the most important number might be the totals in the wins and losses column. As a starter the Cougars went 8-7 with three losses that can be termed as bad losses (Utah, LMU, Pepperdine). With Carlino coming off the bench the Cougars ended the season 13-3 with two of them considered as bad losses (Portland, Pacific). Of the eight wins, two of them can be considered good or great wins (Texas, Stanford) while three of the 13 bench wins can be considered good (Saint Mary's twice, Gonzaga).
There may be no way to know the exact impact of the decision to bring Carlino off the bench, but from the surface it looked to be very successful for the Cougars. Keeping in mind that the overall competition may have decreased, there is no way to know how long Carlino may have stayed in his slump. What we do know is that part of the Cougars success hinged on Carlino finding his way back to lead his team, and one decision by Coach Rose appears to have saved the season for the BYU Cougars.
Do you think we are right? Wrong? Let us know in the comments what play, game, or decision defined the Cougars season.