BYU basketball: The Curious Case of 2016-17 Cougar hoops

BYU basketball’s 2016-2017 season has been typified by one thing: youth. When the youngest team in head coach Dave Rose’s tenure takes the floor, those box-of-chocolates situations keep cropping up.

Riddle me this. How does a team (say, BYU basketball) give up 52 points in a half  to an opponent with a losing record, and then turn around and only allow that much in a game  to a winning team?

After getting mercilessly drilled by Pepperdine by their largest margin of loss of the season (I probably jinxed that one in that last paragraph), BYU basketball flipped the switch and swatted the life out of a San Francisco team that was on a four-game winning streak. The Cougars’ steady defensive pressure held the Dons to 22.2 percent shooting in the first half, and 24.7 percent for the game.

Jan 12, 2017; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23) shoots the ball over San Francisco Dons forward Remu Raitanen (11) during the second half at Marriott Center. Brigham Young Cougars won the game 85-75. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

And it was a good thing, too. At a time when TJ Haws was spazzing out turnovers left and right and Nick Emery was forgetting what a swish looks like, BYU basketball needed to lock down to stay in it.

Even bell-ringer Eric Mika, while not exactly ineffective, was more stifled than usual. He ended up with only a dozen points and eight rebounds for the game.

But even good defense can sustain you only so long. Early in the first half, the Dons were starting to heat up from deep, and if someone didn’t do something soon, it was going to be another fight from behind on the road. Those haven’t gone well for BYU basketball this year.

Then Yoeli Childs donned his Superman cape.

With a career-high 23 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks and NO FOULS (yes, you read that correctly) “Yo” made life hard for the Dons on both sides of the floor.

In addition to his usual power-dribble-into-baby-hook that has been money for him all season, Childs hit turn-around 15-foot fades, he hit free throw line jumpers, he dunked on men in traffic. He cashed in a season-high 39 minutes on the floor, which is what happens when you don’t foul.

And that’s not all, folks. Childs showed some of his elite rebounding ability. More than once he high-pointed a ball in traffic. And when Yoeli grabs a rebound, he snatches it a like a mother bear saving her cub from falling into a river.

On one particular Emery miss in the second half, after the ball caromed off the rim, Yoeli vacuumed in the ball one-handed, took a settle dribble, and then made a left-handed reverse layup around Mika and two Dons. That was the kind of game he was having.

And then there was the swat.

Led by Childs, the Cougars rejected eight shots, and altered a lot more. San Francisco had no choice but to rely on their outside shooting, because the paint was a cold and barren wasteland where FG attempts go to die. And the 3-point gods were not as kind to the Dons as they were to Pepperdine.

Promise of the Future

Here’s another telling stat: 67 of BYU’s 68 points against San Francisco were scored by underclassmen, all of whom were in the starting lineup. With the seniors out with injury (Rose, Davis) and the juniors mostly being defensive players (Guinn, Kaufusi) or spot players plagued by injury (Aytes), the Cougars have no choice but to rely on their young guns.

That isn’t a recipe for consistency. But it may be one for future success. When BYU basketball finishes battling through the end of this season, possibly with a bid to the NIT, they will have something to build on.

But will the Cougars get to 20 wins this season?

It seems like they will. Dave Rose has never failed to reach that total as head coach. San Diego visits the Marriott Center Thursday, and the Cougars should have some burning memories of their visit to the Jenny Craig Pavilion a few short weeks ago. If BYU basketball can steal one from St. Mary’s Saturday, it will go a long way to bind up a broken season.

The talent is there. But the youth be fickle.

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