It has been a good, long while since Jess and Mary have felt compelled to do a Coaching from the Couch piece for BYU Basketball. BYU fans have been so extremely spoiled this season, but after Saint Mary’s snapped no. 14 BYU’s nine-game winning streak (51-50 the final score), and after such an undeniably ugly game to open play in March, it just felt right to do some decompressing. So in traditional format, here is what went wrong and what went right for Coaches Tyler (Jess) and Blanchard (Mary) in the WCC Tournament semifinal. Chime in on the comments or on Twitter or wherever!
What went wrong:
- Let’s start with the obvious: The Cougars scored a season low 50 points, and shot a season low 36.2 percent from the field. Of course, Saint Mary’s only shot 0.3 percent better than that, but in a game where you lose by one, that 0.3 hurts.
- An unsurprising stat after my first point, but TJ Haws and Jake Toolson scored 0 FGs in the second half. That is never going to help BYU’s case. And it’s crazy, because those guys have been super consistent and very reliable this year, perhaps especially in late-game situations, but it was just not working in the second half. From where I stand, TJ was getting okay shots, they just weren’t going in... But Jake didn’t take or get nearly enough shots. On the night, Jake took seven shots. He just wasn’t involved enough.
- I could probably make a very long list of what went wrong last night, but I’ll keep it at three, and the one I absolutely cannot NOT mention is free throws. We are shooting about 70 percent from the stripe this year, which is not awe-inspiring, but fine... Last night we were 9 for 15, which is 60 percent, which is not okay — Especially in a game where you LOSE BY ONE POINT. I love Yoeli so much and I hate to call him out in any way because I’m just grateful that he is here at all, but when he misses both free throws, a piece of my soul dies. He was 5-10 from the line. Not great. The only other person who shot a FT and missed was Gavin Baxter.
We make free throws we win... mind blowing I know— Kelli (@kelli_BYUFan) March 10, 2020
- BYU’s first possession of the game was an air-balled three-pointer from Jake Toolson. And granted, Toolson ended up making three treys in the first half. I’ll always trust him to shoot that shot. But to begin the game like that just felt like a bad omen. Then, on the other end of the court, the Cougars left Jordan Ford open behind the three point line and he swished it. Jordan Ford—the one guy they KNEW not to leave open. Sometimes you can just tell from the tip that it’s going to be an off night.
- Turn. O. Vers. Oy vey. How many times did BYU turn the ball over dribbling down the lane? Felt like a hundred. Fifteen turnovers and 16 SMC points off those turnovers—11 of them in the second half. A few of those were full court passes that sailed out of bounds, including on BYU’s last possession of the game. Just have to take better care of the ball.
- This is obviously reflected in the number of turnovers, but BYU never found a good rhythm on offense and wasn’t able to move the ball as effectively as it usually does—a credit to Saint Mary’s defense. Only seven assists on the night, a new season low. Part of that was because shots BYU normally makes didn’t go in. But part of it was stagnant ball movement and some impatience on offense.
What went right:
- First of all, what went right is that the sky is not falling. This is a loss to a quad 1 team, that is ranked 31 in NET, and very much a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Probably a single digit seed. We entered this semifinal matchup having 0 bad losses on the year, and we ended it having 0 bad losses on the year. To go along with this, it is better to lose in this elimination tournament than the next one — So if we had to get this abysmal performance out of our system, here’s to it being out of our system before the big dance! We have ground out a couple of close wins from a couple of ugly games this year (The second USD game and the Santa Clara game come to mind), and those are all well and good to learn from, but I know that this team HATES to lose, so they might learn even more from this one. It’ll hit different.
- BYU’s defense was really good. It’s hard to say anything was really good, haha, but holding Saint Mary’s to 50 really was good. Holding them to 20 at halftime was an extremely impressive feat! Connor Harding was alllllll over Jordan Ford. If you would have told me before the game that Jordan Ford would have 18 points, and be Saint Mary’s leading scorer, I would have thought we would have won easily. Plus, those two shot clock violations we forced in a row in the first half were... Chef’s kiss. I think this is also the right place to give a shout out to the man, the mullet, the mustache... Zac Seljaas. When we had that stretch in the second half where we went almost nine minutes without scoring, I told my husband that we needed Zac back in, because I knew he would make something happen, and he did!!! Zac had one of our two made baskets (ugh) in the last 13 minutes of the game, and his and one was pretty much the only remotely good thing that happened in those last few minutes of the game.
- This is kind of a stretch for a what went right but I’m kind of having a hard time coming up with a third thing, and I just really want to put a positive spin on this: Mark Pope is gonna take this blame and he’s gonna learn from his mistakes. Last night was not a perfectly coached game, and though technicals from a coach can sometimes serve to get a team fired up and moving in the right direction, Pope’s technical last night did not. BUT I don’t think we’ll see it happen again and I think that is good, and that’s a ‘what went right.’ I still very much think we have an amazing dude at the head of this squad, and anyone who’s speaking an ill word about him is cray cray, IMO. Vanquish the Foe (look, we’re meta) said it better than I’m saying it (and I will admit that I went to bed and didn’t hear Pope’s postgame comments, but from what I’ve seen on Twitter, Pope very much took the blame for this loss):
Pope will take this loss and put it 100% on his shoulders because of that tech and two free points because that’s the kind of person he is. Onto the big dance.— Vanquish The Foe (@VanquishTheFoe) March 10, 2020
- This is a team loss. It’s not on one guy. It’s not on one player. I don’t think a single member of that team (coaches included) is going to look back on that game and think “Yeah, I did all right.” No one is going to blame anyone else. I think they’re each going to take the responsibility on themselves to make sure they don’t have another game like that. And the team we see in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is going to be a better, more determined, more together team than the one we saw last night. If you’re going to have the best locker room in America, it has to be the best locker room after a loss too. I think it will be. And as Coach Blanchard mentioned, if you’re going to play a terrible game in March, best to get it out of the way before the Big Dance.
- The defense was alright! Perfect at times! Two shot clock violations in a row?? Can’t remember the last time that happened. I’m not worried about the offense—not likely BYU will shoot that poorly again. Coach Pope has said something like “This team is really good when we play defense.” On a really, really terrible, uncharacteristic offensive night, BYU almost got the win with defense. Good lesson to remember in March.
- There are about nine days between now and the Round of 64. That’s a lot of time to reflect on this experience and fix it. Figure out how to avoid coming out flat again. And a big part of “fixing it” will be getting key guys healthy and ready to go. Kolby Lee should be 100 percent by then (and no one else better get the flu—take zinc or elderberries or chug Emergen-C, or just WASH YOUR HANDS GUYS, FOR REAL, WE’RE ALL DOING IT NOW). Gavin Baxter will have some more time to shake off some rust. Connor Harding can give that knee some rest. TJ Haws can catch up on some sleep (please be a team player, baby Tyson). And he’s cleared to practice so we’ll finally get Dalton Nixon back! He, like Zac Seljaas, can turn the tide of a game with one play. If all goes well, this should be a full strength BYU team heading into the NCAA Tournament, and this team is GOOD. If last night made you forget that, I’m sorry. It’s still true. This could be the best BYU team to ever play in the NCAA Tournament. Could be. Can be. Might be. We’ll have to wait and see.
That’s what makes this time of year so special! March Madness! Anything could happen.