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Cougars could use early spark from Williams against Saint Mary’s

By Darnell Dickson - | Jan 28, 2023

Courtesy BYU Photo

BYU guard Rudi Williams prepares for a men's college basketball game against Utah at the Mariott Center on Saturday, December 17, 2022.

BYU senior guard Rudi Williams went on a tear last week, shooting 18 of 29 (62%) from the field and scoring 52 points against Santa Clara and San Francisco, including a career-high 28 against the Dons. It was the fourth time this season Williams has come off the bench to score at least 24 points.

Unfortunately, the Cougars fell behind big early in losses to Santa Clara and USF. The transfer from Coastal Carolina was able to take his defenders off the bounce and get to the basket in both games late. It seemed that the best offense for BYU was simply turning the ball over to Williams and letting him go one-on-one.

That kind of attack likely won’t work in the long term or on Saturday against No. 22 Saint Mary’s, the West Coast Conference’s top defensive team.

But it’s worth of look at how to possibly take advantage of Williams’ abilities earlier in the game.

“We scored relatively well in both of those games, but we really scored a distorting amount of points in the last four minutes when the total tenor of the game changes,” Cougar coach Mark Pope said. “It’s kind of when the game has gone sideways, and everybody is in panic mode, trying to make something happen. It’s probably not sustainable. So there’s that measuring our approach to use Rudi but there’s also a part that we need to leverage him a little bit more.

“This is the first time in his career Rudi has played point guard and so he’s trying to find a comfort place. But certainly something that has grabbed our attention is like, can we find space to use him in different ways? One of the things we’re doing late in the games for Rudi is we’re getting rid of ball screens. We’ve started to let him play in space a little bit and not bring a second defender.”

Freshman Dallin Hall has been starting at point guard but has had a tough stretch against Santa Clara and USF with eight early turnovers.

“Listen, the grind catches up with everybody, especially with rookies,” Pope said. “It always does. Dallin is carrying a big load and we’ve been concerned with his health the whole year and it’s such a new experience for him. He’s definitely in the process right now. But he’s got a champs heart. I have a lot of faith in Dallin that it doesn’t matter how heavy things get or how frustrating he’s going to keep pounding the wall and break through. That’s just how he is.”

Williams could step into the starting lineup to give the Cougars a boost early against Saint Mary’s and create some offensive opportunities.

“I would just say probably asserting myself earlier in the game, trying to be more aggressive earlier,” Williams said. “I need to see if I can catch a rhythm before it’s too late in the game. I believe in my abilities to beat my first defender off the bounce. And then after that, it’s kind of easier. I feel fine for both (isolation or ball screens) but when you’re just one-on-one with a guy, it’s easier to make a read. The defense is usually in a scramble.”

Scouting Report

Saint Mary’s (7-0 WCC, 18-4 overall) entered the Top 25 this week for the first time this season at No. 22. The Gaels are No. 4 in the country in points allowed per game (57.2), No. 23 in field goal percentage defense (39.5%) and second in the WCC in field goal percentage (47%).

In other words, a typical Randy Bennett-coached team.

“I think what’s magic about him is he just does the same thing over and over and over again,” Pope said. “These guys know it and are committed to it. They are clearly the best team in the league and one of the best teams in the country right now. Randy could grab five guys that are 175 pounds and still put a really physical product on the table because that’s how he coaches.”

Pope called 6-8 senior forward Kyle Bowen “a superstar,” even though Bowen is just averaging 6.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Bowen’s worth to the Gaels is on the defensive end and as an option from the 3-point line (46%). The team’s leading scorer is hometown hero Aiden Maheney, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard who played at Campalindo High School just two miles from the Saint Mary’s campus. Maheney is averaging 15 points per game and shooting 43% from beyond the arc. Three other starters (Mitchell Saxen at 12.6, Alex Ducas at 12.1 and Logan Johnson at 12.1) average double figures as well.

Aside from a 3-point victory at Santa Clara on New Year’s Eve, Saint Mary’s has been dominating WCC competition. In the other six wins, the Gaels have won by an average of 25 points per game.

Meanwhile, Pope admitted he’s still frustrated over his team’s lackluster performance on the Bay Area road trip last week.

“We’re just so desperate to get better and we can’t afford steps backward,” Pope said. “It happens in growing and if I was more mature and little bit of an adult, I would willingly accept that. But we’re running out of time. We have so much work to do in so many ways. We need to get more reps and more experienced and I feel the pressure of time right now. I think our guys feel the pressure of time to try and get better and everybody is juggling that stuff at this point in the season.

“We get super frustrated when our engagement doesn’t match up with the standards we have here. There’s a lot of emotion but we have to keep forcing ourselves to move forward. It’s actually a really magical process. It’s one of the greatest things about sports. It teaches guys to do that in a really unique way. I’m grateful for it, even though it’s super painful.”

Men’s College Basketball

No. 22 Saint Mary’s (7-0, 18-4) at BYU (4-4, 14-9)

Saturday, 8 p.m. MT

Marriott Center, Provo


Radio: KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM

Live stats: byucougars.com

The Word: Saint Mary’s leads the overall series 15-10. … BYU has won the past four home games against the Gaels and four the past six meetings. … The Cougars are 7-4 against Saint Mary’s in the Marriott Center. … BYU has lost three of its past four games. … The Gaels have won nine consecutive games.


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