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BYU Playing Its Best Basketball

24 February 2014 Brett Richins
Anson Winder drives to the bucket vs. Gonzaga. (BYU Photo)

Anson Winder drives to the bucket vs. Gonzaga. (BYU Photo)

The BYU Cougars are playing perhaps their best basketball at just the right time.

After losing road games at Portland and Gonzaga a month ago to fall to 5-4 in the West Coast Conference, the Cougars have since won seven of their last eight games, including impressive victories over the Zags and Pilots last week.

The move by head coach Dave Rose to sit Eric Mika in favor of Josh Sharp and Luke Worthington during the first few minutes of those games paid big dividends–as we predicted it would in a previous article.

Mika played one of his most impressive games of the season against Gonzaga, scoring 13 points and pulling down eight rebounds. More importantly, the freshman avoided picking up early fouls while forcing Gonzaga big men Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski into foul trouble with his aggressive offensively play.

The decision to start Anson Winder in both games was also key, and something we should continue to see as BYU moves into tournament time. Winder’s ability to defend helped to keep Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos and Portland’s Bobby Sharp in check after the two burned the Cougars for a combined 51 points last month.

In the past, Winder’s inconsistency on offense has limited his time on the court. However, the junior rose to the occasion last week shooting an amazing 83 percent from the floor in the two games and averaging 18 points per outing. He also made two of his four three-point shots.

In addition to the improved play of Mika and Winder, the Cougars got a huge boost from Matt Carlino, who poured in 30 points against Portland and knocked down eight three-point shots. For the week he averaged 22.5 points and 3.5 in assists, steals and rebounds on his way to being named the WCC player of the week. The streaky shooter has experienced significant improvement in his play since losing his starting job and being asked to coming off the bench.

With the improved play and scoring of his teammates, Tyler Haws has not had to carry as much of the scoring burden for the Cougars. Haws turned in his second lowest scoring total against Portland with 12 points, after scoring just 15 points against Gonzaga.

The nation’s fourth-leading scorer has failed to reach the 20-point threshold in four of the last five games, yet the Cougars have gone undefeated in those four games. The less the Cougars have to rely on Tyler to carry them offensively, the more difficult they are to defend and the better their chances of making and advancing in the NCAA tournament.

Bubble Prospects Improving

That squeaking noise you’re hearing is BYU shinnying its way up to a better spot on the NCAA bubble.

After looking like they might be faced with having to win the WCC tournament to make the Big Dance, the consensus is that Cougars would be in if the tournament pairings were announced today.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lundardi has BYU in relatively comfortably at this point as a No. 11 seed. The BracketMatrix.com, a online tool that averages all of the bracket prediction sites, also has the Cougars currently in the tournament with an 11.31 average seeding.

In addition to picking up two wins last week, Rose’s team also benefited from the fact that several other bubble teams lost key games over the weekend. Programs like West Virginia, Providence, St. Johns, Tennessee, Minnesota, Georgetown and Richmond –all teams that BYU has been jostling for position with–lost at least one game last week.

Despite their current situation, the Cougars still have a lot of work left. Any loss outside of the championship game in the WCC tournament could knock them out of the running for an at-large bid. The good news is that they may find themselves on the opposite side of the bracket from both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas.

First up however, is a dangerous game at San Diego to close out the conference season. The Toreros are fresh off of a 69-66 upset of Gonzaga on Saturday night and will be looking to make amends for a 34-point loss in Provo earlier this season.

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