BYU Men’s Hoops: Cougars and Gaels will have similar game plans
Saint Mary’s has built its program on rugged defense and an efficient, slow-paced offensive attack.
BYU figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ’em.
The Cougars have relied on 3-point shooting and an up-tempo attack during most of Dave Rose’s tenure, but this season BYU looks a lot more like Saint Mary’s in terms of defense and pace. When the two teams meet on Saturday afternoon in the Marriott Center, expect a lot of the same tactics from both teams.
The Cougars, who have won nine straight, will try to beat the Gaels at their own game.
Saint Mary’s won all three meetings against BYU last season by an average of 19 points per game, including an 80-51 thrashing in the WCC Tournament.
“They’re going to come out and see a totally different team,” BYU sophomore Yoeli Childs said. “A team that shares the ball a little bit better and plays with a better pace. I think that we’ve worked really hard, especially on the defensive end, at being able to guard what they do. So I think it’s going to be a different outcome.”
The change in defensive and offensive philosophy came with assistant head coach Heath Schroyer, who joined the program this spring and immediately instilled a different toughness to the Cougars. Another difference is in personnel, where BYU has eight new players this year.
“During the summer we’ve kind of taken a different approach and focused on defense to be able to win those low-scoring games,” BYU junior Elijah Bryant said. “That’s what Saint Mary’s does. Their pace is one of the lowest in the country, and we’re ready for that.”
Much of what Saint Mary’s game plan revolves around slick point guard Emmett Naar (tied for second in the country in assists at 9.1 per game) and 6-foot-11 center Jock Landale, who’s averaging 21.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while shooting 64 percent from the field.
“You’ve got to kind of pick your poison,” Rose said, “because if you keep one guy on him (Landale), he’s probably going to have a big night. If you bring a second guy you’re getting in rotation and when Saint Mary’s gets you in rotation they are usually pretty good at hitting shots. That will be our challenge.”
It will be a challenge for the Gaels in a similar way with Childs inside. The 6-8 sophomore collected four ferocious dunks and finished with a career-high 26 points — plus 13 rebounds — in Thursday’s 69-45 victory against Portland.
When the Pilots tried to double up on Childs, that left lanes open for Bryant, who sliced his way to 22 points and a career-best 15 rebounds.
BYU struggled from the 3-point line against Portland (3 of 15) but still shot 50 percent from the field, it’s fifth time in the last sixth games and eighth game overall shooting 50 percent or better.
Saint Mary’s dispatched Loyola Marymount easily on Thursday (87-59) and did what it normally does against WCC foes. The Gaels made 10 of 16 from the 3-point line (63 percent) and shot 62 percent from the field overall. Landale led all scorers with 21 points and nine rebounds.
“They’re different without Joe Rahon,” Rose said. “He was a really, really tenacious defensive player at the point of attack all the time, but these other guys are doing a pretty good job. They’re scoring more, and teams are scoring a little more against them, but I think it offsets. They are much better offensive team this year.”
Star power The Marriott Center played host to some VIPs for the BYU-Portland game.
Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell — along with teammates Rael Neto and Naz Mitrou-Long — were sitting courtside. Mitchell, who is averaging 17.9 points per game, played prep school basketball against Bryant four years ago.
“We’ve stayed in contact over the years,” Bryant said. “As you can see, he’s having a spectacular year. It was cool. I haven’t seen him since our prep school days up in New Hampshire. That guy, man, he’s super athletic. I’ve always known that. He’s super long. It’s all about the mindset. He has that assertive mindset and that’s what you need in the league.”
Rose admitted that having Mitchell there was a bit of a distraction, but said it was good for the state of Utah.
“He’s having an unbelievable rookie season,” Rose said. “I had the chance to go up and watch (the Jazz) a couple of weeks ago. It’s amazing. The future is great for that club. I think when the Jazz are good, the whole state benefits from it.”
Portland center Philipp Hartwich, who is 7-foot-2, totaled five blocks for the Pilots against BYU.
“He was really good shot blocker,” Childs said. “It was annoying, too, because he’s really likeable. You’d make a shot and he’d say, ‘Good shot, man.’ I hate that when they’re so nice for you. He’s a good player.”
Childs said going up against another 7-footer last week against Texas Southern helped him learn how to adjust against a shot blocker.
“Being able to learn, that’s what this team is really good at,” Childs said. “Wins or losses, we learn from everything.”
Back on the court
Junior forward Braiden Shaw played three minutes at the end of the Portland game, his first live action all season. Shaw missed the first 13 games of the season due to an ankle injury. Sophomores Ryan Andrus and Dalton Nixon continue to heal from injuries and didn’t play on Thursday. Freshman Kolby Lee, who joined the program this week, practiced with the Cougars but didn’t suit up for Thursday’s game.