Thanks to Mary Blanchard (you can give her a follow on Twitter @marydblanchard) over at SB Nation’s BYU blog Vanquish the Foe (you can give them a follow on Twitter @vanquishthefoe) for taking the time to answer some of our questions as the Gonzaga Bulldogs head to Provo, Utah to take on the BYU Cougars.
TSSF: Yoeli Childs flirted with the NBA Draft, and then decided to come back. Despite that positive news at the beginning of the season, it has been a rather up and down affair for BYU. Is that expected, or are the Cougars truly having a down year?
MB: Up and down is a great way to put it. With BYU fans, I don’t think it’s ever expected. We tend to be eternal optimists, for whatever reason. Personally, I’ve felt more down on this team than I can ever remember feeling on another BYU team. But we still have 13 wins -- not terrible. I think one of the problems is that we haven’t gotten any ‘surprising’ wins, the other being that we’ve lost some games we really should have won. We had some solid non-conference opportunities to get ourselves on the map and we just didn’t. We’ve had some internal problems with guys sitting out, almost quitting, players fans want to get minutes not getting minutes, etc. But then we go and get that win against an (albeit worse than usual) Saint Mary’s team. I think fans have spent the whole season waiting for a turning point. They’re all, “We’ve turned the corner NOW, wait no, NOW…” but we just haven’t gotten there yet and may not. So to answer this question more succinctly, I don’t think anyone would be too far off base calling this a down year for the Cougars.
TSSF: TJ Haws has really stepped it up this year. What is the key to stopping his offensive onslaught, or is it more just close your eyes and hope he misses?
Despite some problems on the whole this year, TJ truly is having the year BYU fans hoped that he would. He’s been much more reliable and improved from years past. He can be very dangerous. It’s funny, because looking the way he does, teams underestimate him time and time again despite film or stat sheets. As for stopping him, I think Teej can be one of those ‘in his own head’ players, so if the Zags can rattle him that way, it might work. Potential ways to rattle him? Get right on top of him as soon as he passes half court, with or without the ball and/or double team him when drives to the key.
TSSF: It now looks like it’ll have been four-straight years without a NCAA appearance. Is Provo getting a bity antsy with head coach Dave Rose at the helm?
Absolutely. I myself have been involved in Twitter threads about Dave Rose this year. This season has really begged the question: What is a successful season defined by? For a lot of BYU fans, they know Dave Rose is good for 20+ wins, some sort of postseason appearance, and that’s enough for them. But for other fans, they are jonesing to get back to the Big Dance, and for whatever reason in the past few years, Rose hasn’t been getting us there. Do antsy fans have much sway? Not really. I think BYU keeps Rose around at least until they get out of the NCAA sanction mess Nick Emery created, and also until they find a really viable second option, which is much easier said than done since head coaches at BYU must be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
TSSF: KenPom gives BYU a 10 percent chance to defeat Gonzaga, what do you think has to happen for BYU to pull off the huge upset?
To be honest, I haven’t even considered the possibility of beating Gonzaga, because low expectations are the key to happiness (my motto this season more than ever). The stars would have to align perfectly. Jahshire Hardnett (point guard who almost left the team but didn’t and has been out with a hand injury) is supposedly back for us this week, so his return could help. Forward Gavin Baxter is just starting to get some good minutes and his length makes a big difference for BYU at the rim on both ends of the floor, so that could help against the Zags as well. Having a reliable third option (besides TJ and Yoeli) has been an issue for us this season. But honestly, unless Gonzaga shows up with absolutely no answer for Yoeli and TJ (highly unlikely) I think y’all have got this one in the bag. You’re about 1,000x deeper than us as a team.