Hey, did you hear? We got a pretty big game coming up tomorrow. The Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the BYU Cougars in Provo, and the Zags are rolling in with the biggest target possible on their backs: standing strong at No. 1.
BYU has had an interesting season, which seems to be the case for the past couple of seasons. Despite a few bad lumps, the Cougars are still packed with some scorers who can give the Zags fits. What else can they give us? We turned to SB Nation’s BYU blog Vanquish the Foe for a few answers, and Mary Blanchard took some time out of her day to help us out.
1) BYU has some justifiable losses (hello Illinois/USC) and some rather dubious losses (what in the world Utah Valley/San Diego). What went wrong in those games where everything went wrong?
There are a few different camps where this is concerned--the two main ones being coaching and youth. Unfortunately the “Fire Rose” train has been blowing full steam ahead this season for some of the BYU fandom. I am not in this camp. I’m much more akin to the youth camp. Our struggles tend to be on the road (not against Utah Valley though, oops) and they tend to be attributed to coming out flat and/or sloppy ball handling (e.g. 18 turnovers against Santa Clara). If I’m picking one last culprit I’ll go with tempo. Dave Rose has said it himself: pace is everything for our young team and that high tempo mixed with youth, road nerves, etc., makes for sloppy losses. Plus our defense is a hot mess (always. Hence the coaching camp).
2) Zag fans have bitter memories of Tyler Haws. How does his younger brother TJ compare? Will he surpass Tyler's mark or is the elder Haws the better of the two?
Ah, Tyler Haws. How I miss him. Tyler Haws was easily one of the most reliable scorers BYU has ever had (and our all-time leader). TJ Haws is not there yet. We’re halfway through conference play and I can now confidently say that I do think he is starting to get his “mission legs” back (as in, it looks like he’s in good enough shape where he can play a full basketball game now). But he still has some work to do. He goes halves without scoring. But boy when he is on he is dangerous. I think my favorite thing about TJ is how deceiving his looks are. The “Ginger Ninja” is one of the many nicknames we BYU fans have for him, because he is SNEAKY good. In my personal opinion, I’m not sure if he’ll surpass the great Tyler Haws, but I do think he will be on par with him. Probably by next year.
3) How much did the injury to Kyle Davis hurt the BYU squad this year? Is it safe to say things might be a bit different if he was healthy?
The injury bug. I should have mentioned that in response to the first question. Kyle Davis transformed his game over the summer. Having Eric Mika and Yoeli Childs to compete with made him 100 times better. It’s truly a tragedy to have his career end the way it did. I absolutely think things would be different if he was still healthy. Someone to back us up when Eric (as he does) gets into foul trouble? Someone to reliably score when Eric is drawing the double? Yes, please. For the first time in a long time, BYU fans thought they wouldn’t have to worry so much about front court depth, but alas, here we are.
4) It is sometimes hard for us to keep track of the mission schedule and everything, so what are some of the up and coming players (either currently on the team or showing up next year) that the Zags have to be aware of in future seasons?
This is a beautiful question because for the first time in a long time I can say that our team is staying a lot the same for a few years! This is the recruiting class we’ve been looking forward to for years. You’ve got freshmen TJ Haws and Yoeli Childs, sophomores Eric Mika, Nick Emery, Elijah Bryant… The youth hurts now but I’m hoping we can pull a Saint Mary’s. Maybe it’ll be the NIT this year but hopefully we’ll be a force to reckon with, within the next couple. As for showing up within the next few years… I’m not as up on this as I should be (sorry), but, keep an ear out for the name Gavin Baxter.
5) What needs to happen for BYU to win this game (outside of half the Gonzaga players falling down a pit into the center of the Earth)?
Half of the Gonzaga players falling down a pit into the center of the Earth sounds good. Can we do that? But really. This is a hard question and I am disheartened because I saw Saint Mary’s (who we lost to) have a great game against Gonzaga and still lose. Let’s see. If we can manage to get Karnowski into foul trouble and limit his minutes more than they are already limited, that would be good. Also, if Nick Emery can have the type of defensive performance he did against Jared Brownridge in our first matchup with Santa Clara, and essentially eliminate one of your guards, then I think we have a shot to keep it close? Assuming everyone on our team shoots the lights out? It’s all I got.