Pass … open 3-pointer … swish.
It’s the sequence many BYU men’s basketball fans have seen all too often from opponents this season, particularly when the Cougars have gone on the road.
St. Mary’s may have not have lit BYU up from long range like other teams have (going just 5-for-18 from beyond the arc) in the 84-71 Cougar win Saturday night, but the visitors had plenty of success at times with penetration.
Fans have wondered whether BYU head coach Dave Rose and his staff are doing enough to help their guys succeed with the defense. When asked about it this week, however, Rose had a pretty clear picture of what the Cougars are running into.
He said that a lot of what has happened has been opponents taking advantage of BYU’s help and rotating the ball to get open looks.
So what does BYU need to do to take their perimeter defense to the next level?
To get some answers, I decided to turn to an expert, the former Cougar player who Rose identified as the best perimeter defender he’s had at BYU: Jackson Emery.
The athlete who made a name for himself by setting the Cougar career steals record — and played a big role in helping BYU and Jimmer Fredette to national success — said playing great perimeter defense comes down both science and effort.
“You have to first understand the game plan,” Emery said. “You have to know who you are defending. But it also comes down to giving a conscientious effort and not have lapses. Sometimes you see guys close out short on a shooter and have him end up making a 3-pointer or they close out too close, don’t contain their momentum and he drives right past them. There are details behind playing hard.”
But there is an advantage to having the right physical skills as well.
“It’s a big factor to be an athletic person and have that ability,” Emery said. “It helps to be able to get in the passing lanes and move your feet better to stop a guy off the dribble. But I don’t feel like I was that much quicker than other guys. It’s more about how you use it to your advantage at the right times.”
But playing defense in a game is a lot different than playing one-on-one.
“You have to incorporate team defense,” Emery said. “When a guy takes the ball right down the middle, you have to make a decision. Do you help? Do you not help? Do you leave your guy open to shoot a three? Sometimes the best thing to do is jab and then get back or get in the passing lane.”
He explained that there is really no substitute for game experience in learning what to do defensively.
“When you play a lot, you understand rotations,” Emery said. “There’s nothing like getting it in real-live situations.”
While the importance to BYU and every team is undeniable, Emery admitted that defense isn’t necessarily something a lot of guys want to be good at.
“They want to be good at putting the ball in the hole,” he said. “But it’s something tough guys understand and are drawn to.”
He did say that if any of the Cougars want some tips, he’d be happy to help out. He said he’d learn the role a guy has within the BYU system, then break down film so guys could figure out more effectively what to do in certain situations.
Emery believes that blame for the Cougar defensive struggles at times this season falls to both the coaches and the players.
“The coaches do a terrific job of preparing,” the former BYU star said. “But sometimes in the games when you have a guy shooting lights out, I don’t see them do anything to throw him off his game. That’s more on the coaches. But it’s on the players to execute the game plan.”
Emery believes Cougars can get better on their perimeter defense — and said that if they don’t, it’s going to be a long season.
“Defensively it hasn’t been a great year,” he said. “When you are giving up 80 points a game, there is definitely room to improve. But you will see them play great and then have lapses where they stop doing what they did just a couple of minutes before. It’s frustrating to see the inconsistencies.”
BYU supporters have to hope that some of the good things the Cougars did with their perimeter defense in the win over St. Mary’s will carry over throughout the rest of the season.
It has to, if BYU wants to have a shot at making a big run and getting back in the NCAA tournament discussion.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.