BYU men’s basketball coach Mark Pope was not as pleased with his team’s 107-80 demolition of Pepperdine as one would expect.
He wasn’t as displeased as he was during Wednesday’s practice, where he tore into the Cougars in an attempt to get them to focus on the details of playing team defense, but Pope saw plenty of room for improvement on that side of the floor that must be made if the Cougars are to meet the challenges ahead.
“First, give credit to Pepperdine,” Pope said. “Second I would talk to our guys about continuing to work on the fact that we have to find way to care about the defensive end on every single possession. We’re not far from that. I’m so proud of how the guys have performed on the defensive end the whole season. But this month (February) is a time where you have lapses, where the pressure and fatigue and frustration and the emotional fatigue of the season steals you away for a few minutes. That can’t happen for us.
“We scored 107 points but we need to be better on the other side of the ball. We need to win games because of our defense. We have to.”
BYU’s collapse in a loss at San Francisco last week – a game where the Cougars led by 14 points early in the second half – obviously had Pope’s attention. Against Pepperdine, BYU led by 22 points in the first half but allowed the Waves to cut that lead to six before halftime. The Cougars put on another big run to go up 25 points midway through the second half but Pope wasn’t happy with the last seven minutes of the game when his team allowed points scored a too many consecutive possessions.
“Sometimes we go up big in the first half and then we just lose our edge,” Pope said. “Clearly we know that will cost us games. The most disconcerting thing about it is for a minute we just lost functionality. We have to get better. We were just complacent and that is not this team’s identity. That’s not what’s in these guys’ hearts.”
Not even close
According to KenPom, the WCC led the nation in blowouts going into Thursday games with 27.5% being decided by 20 points or more. The five WCC games on Thursday were decided by 15, 27, 12, 22 and 25 points.
A helping hand
BYU had 27 assists against Pepperdine, 17 between T.J. Haws (6), Yoeli Childs (6) and Jake Toolson (5). Haws moved into fourth play on the Cougars career assists list with 534. He is currently five assists from tying Danny Ainge for third place. No. 1 on that list is Kyle Collinsworth (703 assists) and No. 2 is Matt Montague (570).
The 27 assists tied for the second-most this season (against Weber State). The season-high was 29 assists against Portland. BYU’s season average of 17.4 assists per game would rank seventh all-time in school history.
In his past three games, Toolson is shooting 59% from the field (25 of 42) and 67% from the 3-point line (16 of 24) while averaging 23.3 points.
Toolson missed his first 3-pointer against Pepperdine but said her prefers it that way so he can adjust his shot accordingly.
“I actually do it on purpose,” he said. “I like to get my misses out early because I know that the rest of game, they are in trouble.”
Pope called his senior guard “one of the premier shooters in the country” but is still pushing for him to improve.
“Clearly he shot the living daylights out of the ball and that’s special,” Pope said. “But we’re chasing big things right now and we have to keep getting better, Jake included.”
BYU was 17 of 28 from the 3-point line against Pepperdine, moving the Cougars to No. 2 in the county in 3-point shooting at 42.3%.
The No. 1 3-point shooting team in the country is Saint Mary’s (42.4), BYU’s opponent on Saturday.
The Gaels took care of Portland on Thursday 86-64, making 18 of 40 from beyond the arc. The 18 makes was one short of the program record. Forward Malik Fitts, who scored 27 points, was 7 of 14 from distance.
“The shots were falling tonight and that was good to see,” Fitts said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me and finding others as well. We did a good job of keeping Portland off the three.”
BYU played at Saint Mary’s on Jan. 9 without Childs, who missed the game because of an open dislocation of his right index finger. Haws scored 29 and Toolson 24 but it wasn’t enough as the Cougars fell in overtime 87-84.
Childs said he and his teammates are locked in for the rematch.
“(Missing the first game) was super tough and super painful,” Childs said. “I just want to be out there to help my guys. It’s been really frustrating having to be out so many games this year. But I’ve been able to learn and grow from it and the team has learned and grown as well.”
Attendance at the BYU-Pepperdine game in the Marriott Center was 10,939, the third-lowest total of the season. The Cougars are hoping for a much bigger crowd on Saturday against Saint Mary’s.
“I hope the joint is rocking,” Pope said. “I hope everybody is excited to come out because this is a big-time, high-level game against one of best coaches in the country. Saint Mary’s is a veteran team that has won a boatload of games and is the defending conference tournament champion. They’ve already beaten us one time this year. So it’s on. It’s a big time game and it doesn’t get much bigger than this.”