One of the added benefits of BYU being in the WCC is they are the only other team with a SB Nation blog we can chat with. So, we’d like to thank Mary Blanchard for taking some time to answer our questions, and then taking some more time to revise one of her questions after the loss to LMU on Thursday.
TSSF: BYU is one of the few teams to apparently have figured out beating Gonzaga in Spokane. What are they doing right, and what does Gonzaga need to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
MB: It’s crazy because there isn’t really a hard-and-fast answer to this question. When you consider our relatively high turnover due to missionaries and stuff, you’ll see that the three teams that have beaten Gonzaga at the McCarthey Athletic Center have been extremely different. If I had to pick a common thread it might be the guys like Eric Mika or Nick Emery (neither of which are with the team this year) who are just terribly fierce and fiery competitors. So you could credit it to the likes of them for just playing on another level when faced with the challenge of the Zags. The only other explanation I could think of is play from unlikely heroes. When I think of our wins in Spokane I think of clutch free throws by the likes of Braiden Shaw, or last-minute amazing blocks by Corbin Kaufusi or Nate Austin… AKA, guys you’ve never really heard of and aren’t necessarily the biggest contributors throughout the rest of the season. How can Gonzaga stop it? I think you nailed it in our end of the Q&A. Don’t assume this home win is a win… Gotta find a way to get up for it as much as our guys do, because especially in those close games that’s what it can all come down to.
TSSF: Last year BYU ran one of the fastest tempos in the nation. This year, not so much. What is going on here? Why the change?
Two words: Heath Schroyer. Heath is our new associate head coach and he has made an immediate and incredible impact. Our team’s identity is completely different and it’s bringing us a lot of success. The BYU most Zags fans are familiar with is the BYU where everyone has the green light, threes are being chucked up two seconds into the shot clock, defense is optional, we thrive in transition, etc. The BYU this year is here to grind it out. We are so much more methodical. We’re patient, and we play more defense, which makes us even more dangerous on the road than usual because, of course, defense travels. Heath has helped us instill “kills” (which I had never heard of until this year, maybe others have). Kills are when you get three defensive stops in a row. We’ve had games where we’ve had 11 kills. Our whole mentality is just different.
TSSF: There isn’t a senior on this team who sees a lot of time. Do you see a potential NCAA Tournament bid this year, or is the core of this squad ready to blow up in the following two years?
Well. I have the great pleasure of changing my answer to this question. I answered before the LMU game and my response has definitely changed. I originally said that if we split with y’all I could see a chance at an auto-bid but that was with the assumption that we would not have any more bad losses, and you know what happens when we assume! I’m not sure how the committee can overcome us splitting with Pacific and LMU. I actually just can’t believe we lost to a team that was 1-9 in conference. We are better than that, I promise. Anyway, an at-large is unlikely. An auto-bid is also unlikely. So while I will absolutely never say never, it could be the NIT for us again. There are no seniors on this team, so I think if Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws can figure their shiz out, we’ll be dangerous next year.
TSSF: What in the world happened in that loss to Pacific?
Oh, gosh. Just when I was starting to forget it. I’m a lot less panicked about it since we won the rematch with them pretty handily at the Marriott Center. Our bench, and actually even any starters not named Elijah Bryant or Yoeli Childs have been pretty inconsistent this year, as far as scoring goes especially. Elijah had 29 points in that loss vs. Pacific but he’s about the only one who truly showed up that night. Yoeli had 13, which would be enough if anyone else could have deigned to make it to double digits, but alas, no one could. It was just kind of the perfect storm and I found myself feeling lucky to still be in the game there at the end. I’m not sure if Zags fans know, but we did have an almost-buzzer beater in that game. Zac Seljaas nailed a circus shot that left his hands literally right after the clock hit zero. Anyway, am I sounding like too much of a homer if I also say I think Pacific is better than people are giving them credit for this year? Which is impressive, considering they’ve got eight scholarship players. Those guys gave Saint Mary’s a run for their money!
TSSF: Which Gonzaga player will be the biggest issue for BYU to handle? On the flipside, who on BYU will give the Zags fits?
Again, you nailed this in your end of the Q&A. Jonathan Williams is someone we are scared of. That match up between him and Yoeli is super intriguing. Hopefully the refs let both of them play (was not the case in the Childs/Landale match up and did not go well for us. Jonathan Williams may eat Luke Worthington alive if that’s who has to play for us). I am also fearful of Rui Hachimura. I love Zac Seljaas so much but he isn’t really panning out to be the wing we’d hope he would this year. Dalton Nixon and Payton Dastrup give us some good stretch four minutes, but I think Rui will win the match up there. It could be bad.
While Yoeli Childs is always scary, I’m gonna go with Elijah Bryant as to who might give you fits. He’s having an incredible season. He’s in the 50/40/90 club. He had 28 points on 9 shots against Pacific. He’s just crazy, crazy efficient, and deadly from pretty much everywhere on the court.