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BYU Men’s Hoops: Cougars host high-octane UT-Arlington

November 18, 2017

It’s a small sample size, but so far, so good for BYU’s renewed commitment to defense.

Through the first two games of the 2017-18 season, the Cougars are allowing 58.5 points per game — down from 74.3 last season — and 38 percent field goal shooting, an improvement from last year’s mark of 42 percent.

“We did a really good job on the defensive end,” BYU coach Dave Rose said after Wednesday’s 65-56 win at Princeton. “We made a real commitment to that and these guys understand the importance of executing the game plan and doing that to the end.”

One area of defensive focus has been on reducing opponents’ 3-pointers, not just makes but attempts. Last year BYU opponents averaged nearly 25 3-point attempts per game. Through two games this season, the Cougars are surrendering 18 3-point attempts per contest. Princeton is a team that thrives on the 3-point shot, but the Tigers made 7 of 19 from distance on Wednesday and just 2 of 9 in the second half.

Saturday night’s challenge is formidable. UT-Arlington scored 99 points in an exhibition win at Oklahoma and outscored Loyola Marymount 86-80 for its first win of the season. Last season, the Mavericks came to the Marriott Center for the first round of the NIT and embarrassed the Cougars 105-89.

“It’ll be a really tough turnaround,” Rose said. “A lot of these guys know first-hand what we’re in for. The other ones, we’re going to have to convince them in the next couple of days. This is a really good team that guarded us really well and turned us over. We did not have one of our better games against them last year, so hopefully we can rebound and play better this time.”

The statistical line from last year’s game was dreadful: UT-Arlington scored 60 first-half points, shot 55 percent from the field and converted 20 BYU turnovers into 32 points.

New BYU assistant coach/defensive wizard Heath Schroyer would likely explode into flames on the Cougar bench if that were to happen on Saturday.

Drew Charles and Kaelon Wilson, who averaged around 16 points per game between them, led UTA with 28 and 20 points, respectively, in last year’s game. Charles has graduated but Wilson returns, along with Sun Belt Player of the Year Kevin Hervey and slick point guard Erick Neal.

Where Princeton was content to walk the ball up the floor for much of Wednesday’s game, UT-Arlington will push the ball at every opportunity on the offensive end.

The Mavericks will be a big early test for BYU’s improved defense.

“These guys are committed to it (defense) and we’ve developed a culture where they believe that it can happen anywhere we go,” Rose said. “Shooting that thing can come and go, but if we can stay tough and stay with our plan and guys execute it, this team has a pretty good future.”