COMMENTARY – Six or seven weeks ago, I tried to lay out some cold, harsh realities for this year’s BYU basketball team, my point being that the Cougars have the talent to win 20-plus games, but not the tough-as-nails character and personnel to do much beyond that.
Now, as we stare tonight’s West Coast Conference quarterfinals in the eyes, we shall see if my hypothesis holds true.
I believe BYU is very talented and very well-coached. But the Cougars are like that tasty pizza you pull out of the oven a few minutes early. It looks delicious, the cheese is melted, the crust is golden, but one bite in the doughy middle instantly tells you that it needs more time.
BYU has had a remarkable season considering the early injuries (Chris Collinsworth, Stephen Rodgers) and the unmistakable difficulty of replacing two gritty veterans. We should all appreciate the toughness that Noah Hartsock and Charles Abuou brought to the Cougars. Hartsock was a great rebounder and an incredible shot-blocker (plus an excellent scorer). Abuou was an in-your-face defender with a motor that was always running.
BYU had to replace those guys with undersized power forwards Josh Sharp and Nate Austin – who provided great effort, but lacked experience and strength – and a freshly returned missionary in Tyler Haws, who has been amazing at scoring, but hasn’t contributed much in rebounding or defense.
And there it is: Rebounding and defense, steals and turnovers. Summing it up in one word: toughness.
Some guys are born with it, others develop it as they grow. Hartsock wasn’t a tough guy when he got to BYU. But he made himself tough. Tyler Haws’ dad Marty became one of the toughest guards ever to play at BYU. He had no problem taking a charge or ripping a rebound away from a soft 7-footer, then delivering a knee to the thorax at the other end. Call him for a charge and he would scowl and then do it again the next time, almost daring the referee to call another charge.
Tyler Haws will get there. To become as great a scorer as he has so soon after a mission is phenomenal. The toughness will come with age and experience. The same can be said for Matt Carlino and even Austin and Sharp. They will need to grow up fast with Brandon Davies and Brock Zylstra graduating.
But for now, BYU still lacks that killer instinct. The Cougars don’t have that guy that will get you a big stop, make that crucial 3-pointer or rip away that game-changing rebound – guys like Kelly Olynyk, Matthew Dellavedova, Elias Harris or Kevin Pangos.
I expect BYU to win tonight (9:30 p.m. on ESPNU) against San Diego, setting up a Friday night showdown against Dellavedova and Saint Mary’s. If the Cougars are going to make it a seventh-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, they’ll have to find a way to be tougher than the Gaels, and then do it again Monday night against No. 1-ranked Gonzaga.
Sounds difficult, doesn’t it? Sounds challenging. Sounds hard.
It sounds tough, and that’s exactly the point.
WCC Tourney Schedule:
7 p.m. — (9) Loyola Marymount vs. (4) Santa Clara — ESPNU
9:30 p.m. — (6) San Diego vs. (3) BYU — ESPNU
7 p.m. — LMU/SCU winner vs. (1) Gonzaga — ESPN2
9:30 p.m. — USD/BYU winner vs. (2) Saint Mary’s — ESPN2
7 p.m. — Saturday’s winners square off on ESPN
Andy Griffin is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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