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USF Game is BYU’s Biggest of the Year

9 March 2014 Brett Richins
BYU's Anson Winder steals the ball from LMU guard Anthony Ireland. (BYU photo)

BYU’s Anson Winder steals the ball from LMU guard Anthony Ireland. (BYU photo)

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — For the BYU basketball team, it all comes down to Monday night.

If the Cougars (22-10, 13-5 WCC) defeat San Francisco (21-10, 13-5 WCC) in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament and advance to the championship game against either Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s, chances are good that they will receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

If they lose, they will almost assuredly be left out of the Big Dance for the second year in a row. For that reason, the game against the Dons becomes the most important of the season.

BYU is 2-0 against USF this season, defeating the Dons by seven points in San Francisco and by five points in Provo. In their first three years in the WCC, the Cougars are 5-1 against Rex Walters’ team.

The two schools tied for second place in the conference, but the Cougars earned the second seed in the tournament on the basis of sweeping the season series. Interestingly, BYU is an impressive 5-1 against the other three teams left in the tourney but went just 8-4 against seeds No. 5 through 10, while USF was just 1-5 against the top three seeds, but a perfect 12-0 against the lower seeds.

Keys to a BYU Victory

Monday’s game features the two hottest teams in the WCC. BYU has won five in a row and nine of its last 10 games, while San Francisco has won six straight games and seven of its last eight.

The Cougars’ hot streak has a lot to do with the performance of guard Anson Winder, and the fact that star Tyler Haws has received significant scoring support from his teammates in recent weeks.

Winder’s move into a starting role has bolstered BYU’s perimeter defense significantly. His ability to lock down and harass opposing sharp shooters on the outside has strengthened an area that has been problematic ever since the graduation of Jackson Emery following the 2010-11 season.

The reason Anson has been used sparingly the past two seasons is because he has often been a liability on offense. However, since entering the starting line up on Feb. 20, he is averaging 15.8 points per game while shooting 72 percent from the floor, 44 percent from three and 89 percent from the charity stripe.

The junior will certainly draw the assignment of guarding Avery Holmes, who scored 19 points and was the Dons’ leading scorer in their 69-60 win over San Diego in the tournament quarterfinals on Saturday.

Holmes is USF’s second-leading scorer, averaging 12.7 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the three-point arc. If he’s able to make shots from the outside against the BYU defense, he has the ability to open things up for the rest of his team, including All-WCC player Cole Dickerson. The senior forward leads the Don’s in both scoring (14.6) and rebounds (7.6) this season.

If the Cougars are to get their third win over the Dons this season, they’ll also need to continue to give conference MVP Haws help on the offensive end of the floor. Over the past seven games, Tyler is averaging a mere 18.7 points per games. In his 26 previous games, he had averaged 24.7 points.

Haws has had to carry less of the scoring burden because several of his teammates have stepped up in recent weeks. Whether it be Kyle Collinsworth, Winder, Eric Mika or Matt Carlino, at least one other Cougar seems to come up big besides Tyler.

During Saturday night’s 85-74 win over Loyola-Marymount it was Collinsworth’s turn, as he scored a career-high 23 points on 67 percent shooting and pulled down a career-best 16 rebounds, six of those on the offensive glass. He dominated the first half, scoring 20 points as the Cougars built an 18-point lead.

The less the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense has to rely on Haws, the more difficult the Cougars become to defend, and the more difficult they are to defeat. If Haws continues to get help on offense, and if Winder continues to perform like has on defense, BYU will not only defeat USF on Monday, they’ll be a tough out for just about any team they happen to run into during the course of the rest of the tournament season.

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