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BYU Basketball Film Study: Santa Clara and San Francisco

What happened in the Bay last week?

After a solid stretch winning eight of nine games, BYU basketball finds itself in a rough patch once again, having dropped three out of their last four with all three coming against solid opponents. BYU’s annual trip to the bay is always a tough one, especially in the last few years, and this season was no different with the Cougars unable to come away with a victory as their turnover issues came back with a vengeance. Their inability to play with force for most of both games coupled with too many defensive breakdowns offset Rudi’s offensive explosion (52 points combined) and sent them back to Provo looking to break the losing streak against possibly the best team in the conference. What happened in the Bay? Let’s take a look at the film.

Playing with “Force”

Coach Pope has mentioned a few times in post game that the team is still learning the price of winning and how to play with force. Nowhere is that more evident to me right now than trying to play through the post and get Fouss touches. Fouss is only averaging 6.6 field goal attempts in conference play right now as opponents key in on him, seeking to push him out of his spots and take away his left shoulder and for the most part, he isn’t putting up enough resistance to that right now.

As the ball turns here Fouss is near the block and has one foot in the paint but by the time the pass is made he’s up the line with both feet out. He does a decent job of initiating contact but it’s not very forceful and his arm bar is unable to hold off the defender from tipping the pass. If he forcefully puts his shoulder into the defender’s chest and steps over the lead leg as the ball is turning, he probably gets a pretty good catch close to the block and can go to work.

Here again against San Francisco he has a natural advantage in transition as his defender is turning to find the ball then loses it in the battle for positioning

Would love to see him just crush the defender while he has two feet in the paint and get a catch in the middle of the key but instead he’s forced into a tough off balance jump hook as the defender is sitting on his left shoulder.

Playing with force extends to really doing what you want to do and getting the outcomes you want and when it comes to touches for Fouss that falls on the rest of the team as well. When schematically they had things set up a little easier for Fouss to get touches, he didn’t get a ton of help. Take this out of bounds under play that BYU has run a lot to get him a hi/lo look, especially effective against teams like Santa Clara that are going to be ¾ to full front.

Santa Clara has this play scouted well as they sit their guard low to help on the hi/lo but I think they could have still hit the action if Rudi comes flying off of this thing instead of sitting in the corner. It’s a pity because Fouss is doing a good job here of being physical and setting up the play but unless Rudi clears his man out by quickly moving out of the corner, BYU can’t get to the look. It felt like at times they were too content to get to the second action rather than try and hit the primary with intent.

On that same vein of being too willing to get to the secondary action, here’s a double screen play the Cougars like to run for Fouss to try and see if they can get him a catch.

The first screen here is a decoy since BYU is not looking for Fouss touches on the right block but the second screen is completely missed and they have zero advantage from the play at all. The sad thing here is they don’t even get to the preferred second action either, Spencer coming off of a pin down, because Santa Clara is top locking it and Spencer’s defender wasn’t worried about the cross screen one bit. There’s a saying “if you want to get open set a good screen” and that is the case in plays like this. If you as the guard want to get a good look, set a good screen so your defender has to help then cut with pace. Neither happens here and the offense stymies. This team needs to be able to rely on Fouss but he can’t help them unless he gets catches. That’s gonna take a more concerted effort by everyone and hopefully we see things improve in that regard.

On the positive side, when BYU actually plays with force the outcomes are predictably great for them. Just take the stretch to go on a 7-0 run in the second half of the Santa Clara game.

The defense is swarming, getting blocks and making things difficult and offensively Dallin is driving deep into the paint and making things happen. Later in the game Gideon also had a good example of what things can look like.

He does a good job of getting deep on his drive, doesn’t panic as windows are closing, and finds Noah for a big and-1. The curse of a young, inexperienced, and gelling team is consistency but the nice part is playing with force is very controllable, I think we see a little more force tonight against the Gaels.

Jaxson as ballhandler

I’ve really enjoyed watching Jaxson’s growth as a ballhandler this season. Coming in as a spacing spot up shooter he’s taken on a huge role as a secondary ballhandler and is starting to get comfortable with what he likes in those situations. It’s not the most efficient shot selection but it is intentional and much better than earlier in the season when you could tell he wasn’t sure if he wanted to get all the way to the rim or stop short and do something. Now his flow is a lot more decisive and I like the progress he’s made.

I also continue to enjoy his ability to pass over the top of the defense. Here in transition he does of good job of keeping his head up and getting the ball to Fouss on the break.

Good vision here to see no help at the rim and let Fouss go and get it. If the Cougars can get Fouss out in transition more like this it makes his job so much easier but they’ll need guards like Jaxson here to find him.

Breakdowns in the press

BYU ended up playing down at the end of both games this week and broke out the press around the 4 minute mark to mixed results. While it did result in a few steals and achieved the overall goal of speeding up the game so they had as much time as possible to try and comeback, there were definitely some avoidable breakdowns. Transition defense has been another thing that more often than not has been a struggle for this team and when you press you’re basically handing the other team a transition opportunity. Here they aren’t ready to rotate over and Santa Clara gets a dunk

When the ball gets close to crossing half court Dallin has got to sink more aggressively on the back side to help with the disadvantage. He can either communicate to Spencer to move up to take the middle and he can take the low man or he can take the middle himself. He’s late and the offense gets an easy dunk.

This possession they were able to get a little more set and are able to hold things up in the back court but then Jaxson over commits just a little bit and no one steps up to take the ball. By the time Noah steps up to help it’s 1 on 3 and the Broncos get another dunk

Then against San Francisco the guards did a solid job of harassing the ball as it came down the floor but then just gave up a cut right at the end of the play

It’s obvious but the price to win is not losing focus and finishing out a play and the teams is still not quite there yet. As usual, though, it’s not all bad so I want to finish this section with a good play.

Here Spencer does a good job not over committing to the ball and using the sideline as a defender. He gaps to have enough space to not get beat middle then Rudi does a good job of feeling the backside and getting a steal. Inconsistency can be maddening but I also prefer to look at it from the positive side, the players can make the good plays, they just need to do it more often.

Guards handling switches

An upside of last week was how the guards and wings handled being switched onto bigs. Since BYU has become a switch heavy team as of late, especially 1-4, the guards sometimes are tasked with the big down low. Rudi got caught on a big after a scramble and did a good job in this play to hold his own, be physical and help force a miss.

Later when Dallin got switched onto a big he did a good job of being aware of when he could switch back, making sure to manage that transition with Gideon after doing a good job of getting to a full front

Richie did the same against San Francisco, getting Atiki back on the big so Atiki didn’t have to stay cross matched onto a guard.

The other ting I really like about Richie’s switch back is that he physically moved Atiki to where he needed to be to make sure the switch was communicated well.

Mismanaged Switches

Unfortunately, as well as the smalls managed switching back guards/bigs they really struggled against San Francisco to manage off ball switches. BYU’s adjustment to stay out of rotation as much as possible by being switch heavy forces them to have to communicate well and manage switches all over the floor. The focus is to guard your own man and switch when needed so the Dons really tested our management of that principle and BYU came up short time and time again.

USF presents a tough problem for BYU that was presented last year as well: you don’t want either of their dynamic guards to get going. Smartly, the Dons put those two in action to see if the defense can handle it. Spencer goes to toplock the the first action so Roberts can’t get an advantage but he flows into a back cut. Jaxson doesn’t want Shabazz to get loose so he’s hugging up there and there’s no one to switch onto the back cutter. There also didn’t seem to be any communication here, a sign to me that Spencer expected someone behind him to pick up the cutter.

Off ball awareness in other switch-type situations like help also struggled because of the gravity of USF’s guard line. Here again, Jaxson doesn’t want to leave Shabazz but normally he needs to be the bottom of the “I” to cover the corner or at least zone up more to be able to cover both. Even if he was more zoned up, though, he would have a tough time having to choose who to box out. Regardless of where he should/could be, though, the Dons get the offensive rebound and scored on free throws off of it.

While the guards struggled, the bigs were late to switches at times as well, especially in out of bounds under situations. Both Atiki and Fouss were late to a simple screen that the guard got caught on.

As an added misstep Atiki fouled Shabazz on that second play. Better and earlier recognition in addition to better talk from the guards/wings to say they’re stuck can help fix those situations, another pretty controllable thing that will be interesting to see if they can correct.

Good process

While the execution was rough at times for the Cougars last week and shot making continues to be a roller coaster, the process continues to be solid. Take this play in the San Francisco game where they got exactly what they wanted but couldn’t finish.

I hope one day they get a solid screen and take a look at that first action with Noah in the post, would be a solid counter to keep things fresh as things go along but that’s beside the point. Spencer does a good job of getting the defense out of position with a pump fake but then can’t finish and Fouss can’t secure the offensive rebound despite having inside position. Going back to that “price of winning” idea, these are the plays BYU has to make, especially when their margin of error is so slim with poor shooting and/or turnovers. It is encouraging, though frustrating, that the teams is pretty consistently set up for success but just has to capitalize on it.


Let’s wrap things up with a tip of the cap to our 6th man of the year candidate. Got to shout out Rudi for his scoring explosion over the last two games and though some of it came late with the game almost out of hand, he still showed the penchant for making shots that he showed at Coastal Carolina. Per hoop-math Rudi has the most unassisted makes at the rim on the team (35), even better than Fouss (33) and is almost double that of the next guard (Spencer at 18). His ability to score on his own is still much better than anyone else and his array of mid range shots and tough finishes will be incredibly valuable against Saint Mary’s tonight if he can keep it up.