This idea of “no-agenda basketball” is really catching on in Provo.
BYU men’s basketball coach Mark Pope uses that phrase to describe the way his team has been playing lately. It simply means that players go into a game with no personal goals, only the desire to make the right basketball play. Pope uses “no-agenda basketball” to describe energy-guy Dalton Nixon as well as leading scorer Yoeli Childs.
When you get that kind of a commitment from your entire lineup good things happen — such as beating UNLV and Nevada each by 33 points.
Last year, Nixon started eight games and played in 25, but only about 12 minutes a game. He shot 44 percent from the field (29 of 66) and made just 1 of 16 3-point shots, averaging 3.5 points per game.
He played just 32 total minutes in BYU last 10 games of 2019.
This season, Nixon started the first nine games before being asked to come off the bench once Childs was eligible to play. He’s averaging twice as many minutes per game (24.2), is shooting 52% from the field (40 of 77) and 45% from the 3-point line (15 of 33). He’s averaging 8.9 points per game, including a career-best 17 last Saturday against UNLV.
“When you give to this game with no agenda and give your whole heart and soul, it rewards you,” Pope said. “It’s a rule. Not very many people are willing to do it, but Dalton is someone takes away his agenda and gives everything he has to this game. He’s just special. There’s no coach in American that wouldn’t kill to get him on their team, at any level.”
Pope said he had some concerns when Childs decided to return to BYU instead of playing professionally, such as the ball sticking in the post when it would go into him.
“He’s done exactly the opposite,” Pope said. “His passing, he’s been so incredibly willing to make the right play and that’s extraordinary. His transition (into the lineup) has been great. His ceiling is so much higher. He’s barely scratched the surface about what he has to do for us to be a good team.”
Childs’ teammates recognize his efforts to move the ball to the open shooter.
“Yoeli is such a great scorer that people kind of overlook that aspect of his game,” senior guard Jake Toolson said. “He’s a great passer and a willing passer. That skill set and willingness to make plays for his teammates makes him a really dangerous player.”
While Childs has six assists in three games — just above his career average of 1.8 assists per game — his willingness to pass the ball out of the double team to the perimeter has often resulted in an extra pass or two from his teammates to produce a wide-open look — a hockey assist, as it were.
“Yoeli is a really good passer and we have shooters around him,” sophomore guard Connor Harding said. “When teams bring a double team, Yoeli will make the right play and we’re going to hit shots. That puts teams in a sticky situation in how they are going to guard us. We have a bunch of guys who can make plays off of him and make plays themselves.”
BYU was credited with assists on 19 of 29 made baskets (65%) vs. UNLV, 17 of 28 (60%) against Nevada.
The BYU-Utah State matchup on Saturday is a good one.
Both are top 50 teams in the KenPom ratings and the Aggies were ranked in the Top 25 most of the preseason. Craig Smith, now in his second season in Logan, led Utah State to a 28-7 overall record in 2018-19, an MWC Tournament title and an NCAA Tournament bid. This year, the Aggies are 10-1 with the only loss coming at Saint Mary’s (81-73) and BYU fans don’t need to be told how Moraga is a difficult place to win.
Senior Sam Merrill (17.7 points per game) is USU’s heart and soul, a very efficient player with the ability to score in multiple ways. Sophomore Justin Bean is averaging a double-double (14.7 points, 12 rebounds per contest) and guard Brock Miller (25 3-pointers) and Abel Porter (3.8 assists per game) are also returning starters.
Seven-foot sophomore center Neemias Queta (11.8 points per game, 84 blocks) sprained his knee in July and has played in just one game so far, logging 10 minutes last week against Fresno State. Merrill and Queta were held out of Utah State’s 94-49 win against Saint Katherine on Tuesday — Merrill due to illness — but both are expected to play on Saturday.
BYU came back from the disappointing overtime loss to Utah to rout both UNLV and Nevada. The Cougars have won 14 straight games at the home of the Utah Jazz and will face the Aggies at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Saturday.
“I love it,” Pope said. “In-state games, I’m a huge fan of them. We just lost our rivalry game to Utah and it was, I don’t know, the 2nd and a half worst experience of my life. These games are great and really important for us. It was a devastating deal (at Utah) a week ago, but this game doesn’t ask you what you did yesterday, it only asked how you will respond. Can anybody complain how we responded?”