Among BYU coach Mark Pope’s favorite drills in practice is a 3-point shooting competition.
For two minutes, the Cougars try to make as many threes as possible.
“In the past, my teams have made maybe 125 but these guys are consistently making 150 to 160 3-pointers during the drill,” Pope said. “Sometimes we go through the first minute and we’re way behind the pace. We might have 50 after the first minute but guys are owning every shot and we’ll run off a streak of 10.
“That’s what we do. This team shoots the ball better than any team I’ve ever coached. We work hard to get open shots. When teams are challenging us to make shots, we make the ones the count.”
The Cougars (11-4) have found different ways to win when that shooting touch is off, such as last week’s victory at home against Oral Roberts. After shooting just 5 of 20 from the 3-point line in the first half, BYU was 4 of 9 in the second and got the ball to elite big man Yoeli Childs and senior guard Jake Toolson.
“It was a good experience for us,” Pope said. “We can get shaky and go away from who we are but that’s not the answer.”
Having a strong identity will be important as the Cougars begin West Coast Conference play on Saturday at home, followed by an important road trip to Saint Mary’s. BYU has the league’s best post player in Childs (21.2 points, 9.8 rebounds per game) and has surrounded him with dependable shooters that can be a nightmare for defenses. The Cougars went 6-3 with Childs sitting on the bench due to an NCAA suspension, so they have confidence they can survive the gauntlet of WCC play.
Two weeks ago Gonzaga (14-1) ascended to the top of the AP poll and Saint Mary’s (13-2) had a strong preseason performance. BYU plays both of those teams twice but must also take care of business against the rest of the league.
The challenge is real.
“Conference is a beast,” Childs said. “It’s a grind and throughout the whole grind, we know we’re a team that can keep our heads high no matter what happens. That’s going to make us very successful.”
Here’s a look at the WCC in 2020.
West Coast Conference Power Rankings
1. Gonzaga (1-0, 15-1)
College Basketball NET ranking: 6
Trending: Since losing to Michigan 82-64 on Nov. 29, the Zags have won six straight games while averaging 94.5 points per contest.
Best win: A 73-72 overtime victory against No. 11 Oregon on Nov. 28.
Best player: Filip Petrusev, 6-11 So. C (16.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 53 pct FG)
The Word: The Bulldogs lost a ton of talent to the NBA from last year’s team but Mark Few has been able to maintain a high level of play with a mixture of talented young players and a couple of grad transfers (naturally). Petrusev has NBA potential and Corey Kispert (14.9 ppg, 45 pct 3’s) does a little bit of everything.
2. Saint Mary’s (1-0, 14-2)
College Basketball NET ranking: 29
Trending: The Gaels had an eight-game winning streak before losing to No. 19 Dayton 78-68 on Dec. 8.
Best win: An 81-73 victory against No. 15 Utah State on Nov. 29.
Best player: Jordan Ford, 6-1 Sr. G (21 ppg, 42 pct 3’s)
The Word: Ford is a fantastic scorer. Against Utah State he had 22 of his 27 points in the second half and scored 34 and 32 points in wins against Arizona State and Cal. Malik Fitts (16 ppg) and Tanner Krebs (10.8) are really good supporting players. 6-10 sophomore center Matthias Tass was coming along well but suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season.
3. BYU (0-0, 11-4)
College Basketball NET ranking: 34
Trending: The Cougars have won five straight games since losing to Utah on Dec. 4.
Best win: T.J. Haws made a last-second jumper for a 72-71 victory at Houston on Nov. 15.
Best player: Yoeli Childs, 6-8 Sr. F (21.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg)
The Word: BYU posted a 6-3 mark with Childs serving a nine-game NCAA suspension. With Childs in the lineup, the Cougars are a difficult team to guard. Former Arizona guard Alex Barcello (10.4 ppg, 43 pct 3’s) has been a great addition and former UVU guard Jake Toolson (14.7 ppg, 44 pct 3’s) is a big-time clutch player. BYU has solid role players and seven seniors as well, a good recipe for success.
4. Santa Clara (0-0, 13-2)
College Basketball NET ranking: 87
Trending: The Broncos won eight of their first nine games.
Best win: A 70-62 victory against Washington State on Nov. 12
Best player: Trey Wertz, 6-4 So. G (12.5 ppg, 4 apg)
The Word: Wertz has been great, as has fellow sophomore Willie Caruso (11.6 ppg). Wake Forest transfer D.J. Mitchell, a 6-8 forward, and 6-9 junior Josip Vrankic are doing well holding down the middle. Tahj Eaddy, a 6-2 junior who averaged 15 points per game last season, has had a slow start (8.1 ppg) in 2019-20 and would make the Broncos a tough matchup if he can get back to his previous form.
5. San Francisco (0-1, 11-5)
College Basketball NET ranking: 105
Trending: The Dons won seven in a row to start the season.
Best win: An 84-79 overtime victory against Ivy League favorite Yale on Nov. 11.
Best player: Jamaree Bouyea, 6-2 Jr. G (14.4 ppg, 4.3 apg)
The Word: Bouyea is a budding star and junior guard Charles Minlend (14 ppg) is all-conference quality. New coach Todd Golden has a deep, disciplined team that can hurt an opponent in a lot of different ways.
6. Pacific (1-0, 13-4)
College Basketball NET ranking: 150
Trending: The Tigers were on a seven-game winning streak before falling to Cal-Irvine 69-56.
Best win: A 58-51 victory against UC Riverside on Nov. 17.
Best player: Jahlil Tripp 6-5 Sr. G (13.1 ppg, 8 rpg)
The Word: Pacific has 12 wins but only the victory against Riverside was against a team higher than 185 in the NET rating. Tripp is a triple-double waiting to happen and the Tigers are very athletic but have not truly been tested yet due to a soft schedule.
7. Pepperdine (0-1, 7-8)
College Basketball NET ranking: 176
Trending: The Waves won four in a row before an 83-68 loss at San Jose State.
Best win: None stands out, but pushing Arizona before falling 93-91 in the Wooden Legacy event was the Waves best performance.
Best player: Colbey Ross, 6-0 Jr. G (19.9 ppg)
The Word: Pepperdine is an enigma after an up-and-down preseason. With the talent returning, including the Edwards brothers (Kessler and Kameron) and the high intensity of Ross, a lot more was expected in Lorenzo Romar’s second season at the helm.
9. Portland (0-1, 8-6)
College Basketball NET ranking: 250
Trending: The Pilots have lost four games in a row since Dec. 19.
Best win: An 82-75 victory against city rival Portland State.
Best player: Isaiah White 6-4 Sr. G (13.3 ppg)
The Word: Terry Porter, now in his fourth year in the Rose City, is on the hot seat after last year’s 7-25 record. The eight preseason wins have come against weak competition but White, a Maine grad transfer, is a good one and he has help from juniors Jo Jo Walker (10.2 ppg) and Malcolm Porter (9.8 pp).
9. San Diego (0-0, 7-9)
College Basketball NET ranking: 209
Trending: The Toreros have won two in a row twice during the preseason.
Best win: A 72-66 overtime win against Fresno State on Nov. 12.
Best player: Joey Calcaterra, 6-2 So. G (13.1 ppg)
The Word: Second-year coach Sam Scholl is in full rebuilding mode after losing four talented senior starters. Calcaterra and Braun Harftfield (13.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) have been steady and Marion Humphrey, the brother of NFL defensive back Marlon Humphrey, has a lot of potential.
10. Loyola Marymount (1-0, 7-8)
College Basketball NET ranking: 234
Trending: The Lions have lost three of four heading into WCC play.
Best win: A 61-51 victory against Southern Utah on Dec. 1.
Best player: Eli Scott, 6-5 Jr. F (16.8 ppg)
The Word: It’s been a tough start for Loyola Marymount, which began the season 10-2 last year. Scott is a physical player who will battle from start to finish and Bulgarian sophomore forward Ivan Alipiev (11.9 ppg) is an improving threat on the offensive end.