After the way I lit into the BYU men’s basketball team after the loss in the West Coast Conference tournament title game, you might be surprised that I’m pretty proud of how the Cougars played in the NCAA second-round loss to Oregon Thursday afternoon.
Without their most complete player, BYU battled on the boards, its shot selection was solid overall and it hung tough with the Ducks for three quarters of the game.
Yes, I know the Cougars fell apart down the stretch and got blown out, 87-68, but I thought BYU did some really nice things, things they can build on.
That’s what this was about the whole time, in my opinion.
Even though the Cougars had some solid showings against good teams earlier this year, this wasn’t a team that was going to make much of a run in the tournament. It was far too streaky, had far too many holes in its game and didn’t have enough depth for that type of performance.
But with no seniors and freshman Eric Mika as possibly the only guy who won’t be on the floor next season, this experience could be invaluable for BYU looking toward 2014-15.
If the Cougars want to avoid another loss on the first Thursday (which has been BYU’s fate in eight of its last 10 appearances), they have to buckle down and zero in on improving some specific things.
Here are my Top 5 things the Cougars must do better next year:
1. Players must be more balanced
Sometimes teams can get away with being offensive or defensive specialists when the rest of the squad has the ability to make up for whatever is missing. BYU, however, isn’t good enough for that.
The Cougars often only had three scoring options on the floor against the Ducks because juniors Nate Austin and Josh Sharp and freshman Luke Worthington aren’t threats to put the ball in the basket. Conversely, junior Tyler Haws and freshman Frank Bartley IV could get a lot better on defense and rebounding.
More versatility would make it much more difficult on opponents at both ends of the floor.
2. Learn to play the angles better on defense
I don’t know how many times BYU picked up ticky-tack fouls against Oregon because they started out in the wrong position to make a play but it happened far too often. It played a big role in the Cougars getting all four post players in foul trouble early on in the game.
BYU’s style of play, which generally fits its personnel really well, means it’s probably never going to be a lockdown defensive-minded group. That’s why it is so important for the Cougars to have a firm grasp of being in the right spots and playing the angles.
3. Develop interior passing techniques
The Ducks lived off being able to get into the lane and then make good interior passes to guys for open baseline jumpers or shots at the rim. I can’t recall BYU getting very many — if any — similar plays.
Usually when junior Matt Carlino, Bartley, Haws or even sophomore Kyle Collinsworth (before he got hurt) get into the lane, they either go to the rim, shoot it or kick it back out to the perimeter. The result is few easy looks by catching the defense out of position.
I’d like to see them develop better interior movement, positioning and passing, which would force defenses to be more wary inside and thus free up better outside looks.
4. Focus on controlling the tempo, not letting it control them
The fast-paced Cougar attack can be devastating, particularly when BYU is making shots and getting stops. It’s like an avalanche, rolling over opponents.
But too often I see the Cougars rushing things and putting themselves in bad situations instead. That’s because they trying too hard to increase the speed of the game without getting anything out of it.
There is a time and a place to attack quickly, to make an opponent pay for not getting back quickly enough and to create early offense.
But you also have to have guys with enough experience and game sense to know when the risk of getting out of control is too great and the team will be better off looking for something better.
Hopefully having been on the big stage and seeing how quickly things can get away from them will help the Cougars recognize when better to be more methodical and less helter-skelter.
5. Quit getting worked up about fouls, particularly on offense
Does Haws get fouled on every possession? Probably. Does frequently talking to the referee about it make any difference? Yes, but in a bad way.
I see this phenomenon on every level and it drives me crazy. Players and often coaches — frequently with the aid of “supportive” fans — get so caught up in what they perceive as missed calls or inconsistency that it gets in their head. Instead of thinking about playing the game, they are thinking about officiating.
Almost without exception, the team that ignores the refs and just focuses on doing everything in their power to perform at a higher level is the more successful team. They may not always win because of other factors but their attitude allows them to be at their best.
I think the Cougars (players, coaches and fans) would be much better across the board if they did their job while on the floor and didn’t try to tell the officials how to do theirs, no matter how wrong they may think the referees are.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.