BYU Men’s Hoops: Cougars searching for more offensive firepower
With 17 games in the books, the BYU men’s basketball team is still looking for a dependable third or fourth scorer.
Junior Elijah Bryant and sophomore Yoeli Childs — both averaging 17.5 points per game — have been consistent when it comes to putting the ball in the basket.
Elsewhere, the scoring has been sporadic.
“It would be great to find another couple of guys who can consistently score for us,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “That’s kind of been our focus is being able to get back to the balance that we’ve had over the years. We’ve been kind of forcing it offensively and getting results with that, but I don’t think that can sustain itself long term. We need to get back to where we balance the floor and get a lot of production from a lot of guys.”
The most logical choices to score big would be sophomores T.J. Haws and Zac Seljaas, both players who have been good shooters and scorers in the past. But Haws and Seljaas have been mired in shooting slumps that haven’t worked themselves out.
Haws — a first team All-WCC selection as a freshman — has made just 10 of 33 shots to start WCC play, including 2 of 9 from the 3-point line. He’s only scored 20 points or more in two games this season and in the first four WCC games is averaging just 7.1 points per game, about half of his average as a freshman. Haws is shooting 37 percent from the field (down from 42 percent as a freshman) and 32 percent from the 3-point line (down from 40 percent).
“We want T.J. to continue to take really good shots,” said BYU associate head coach Heath Schroyer. “We think he’s taking good shots and getting some good looks. He’s a better basketball player this year than he was last year. He’s a better defender and a better communicator. He’s struggled at times to knock down a shot or two, but T.J. is getting better. We have all the confidence in the world before it’s all said and done that he’s going to be knocking down shots like he always has.”
Seljaas, who shot 50 percent (68 of 136) from the 3-point line as a freshman during the 2015-16 season, is making just 33 percent (17 of 52) as a sophomore. Not only that, but his playing time has been reduced dramatically during WCC play, where he’s averaging just 13 minutes per game. Seljaas has scored just six points in league play.
“As a coach, you’re always concerned about the confidence level of everyone on the team, individually and collectively,” Schroyer said. “Zac is no different. I think he’s worked extremely hard coming back off a mission and it’s taken him a little bit of time to just get his rhythm. But in the second half of the year the staff has a lot of confidence that Zac will be able to play to his potential.”
Schroyer was quick to point out that both Haws and Seljaas are doing other things very well. Haws is third in the WCC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7) and has cut his turnovers way down from his freshman season. Seljaas is better on the defensive end and played a key role in the win at San Francisco, working the high-low offense for three assists to Childs during a critical stretch in the second half.
Getting those two players untracked on the offensive end would be a big plus in conference play for the Cougars.
“The biggest thing for me is staying aggressive and finding different ways to score, attacking gaps and attacking closeouts,” Haws said. “When the opportunity presents itself, try and take it and make the right basketball play.”
Seljaas, who has been playing out of position at power forward since the injury to Dalton Nixon, added, “Like T.J. said, just being aggressive. Not just certain guys but everyone together being aggressive. When we spread it out we’re able to open the court for everyone to be able to do that. It just makes it easier.”
Pepperdine graduated its top three scorers from last year’s team, including Lamond Murray (21.4 points per game). The Waves (3-13 overall) have lost seven straight games this season, including the first four in WCC play. Injuries have played a big part in the latest swoon. Sophomore Kameron Edwards (15.9 points per game) has missed the past seven games due to a concussion and his status for the BYU game is uncertain. Veterans Nolan Taylor, Knox Hellums and Elijah Lee were absent from Saturday’s 80-67 loss to San Francisco because of injury or illness.
Even so, Pepperdine is a physical and athletic group, similar in style and personnel to the Pacific team that took down the Cougars last weekend.
“We got beat by Pacific and this is another very similar challenge,” Haws said. “We’ll see how our team adjusts and gets better. Really, it’s about defending as a team. I feel like against Pacific we just got beat off the dribble. We were all kind of worried about defending our own guy, but when you play teams like this you have to be in gaps and you have to be helping each other. Everyone has to be attached with a string to each other. Hopefully we’ll all be defending as a team. I think if we can do that we’re going to cause them issues.”