Defense Missing With BYU’s Road Woes

Jan 17, 2019, 11:11 AM
Players scramble for a loose ball during BYU's 80-74 win over Santa Clara in the Marriott Center in...
Players scramble for a loose ball during BYU's 80-74 win over Santa Clara in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)
(Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

PROVO, Utah – The road hasn’t been kind for the BYU Cougars (11-8, 3-1 WCC) this season. The Cougars are 1-6 on the road and their lone win was close to being another disappointing road loss as the Cougars blew a 21-point lead to beat Pacific (11-8, 1-3 WCC) 90-87 on January 3rd.

The road doesn’t get any easier Thursday when BYU plays Pepperdine (9-9, 2-2 WCC) in Malibu. The Cougars have struggled in Firestone Fieldhouse winning just one of their last five games – a 75-70 victory last season that was sealed by the now departed Elijah Bryant when he scored nine of BYU’s 11 points in overtime.

“Defense is what won this game for us. We had segments of time during this game where we were really determined defensively,” said BYU Head Coach Dave Rose after the game. “We had a nice rhythm early in the game, but then it just became really hard for us to get in a rhythm scoring. We stayed in there and really fought defensively.”

In BYU’s 2018-19 campaign, defensive play has been a major liability on the road. The Cougar defense is allowing 94.1 points per game on the road on a .484 field-goal percentage. At home, the Cougars are allowing 67.7 points per game and are holding opponents to .398 field-goal percentage.

“In practice we’ve put more emphasis on [defense],” said freshman forward Gavin Baxter. “Making the extra effort has really made a big difference – not only in practice but has really translated over to games really well.”

The record at home reflects the improved defensive play with the Cougars posting a 9-1 record in the friendly confines of the Marriott Center including a pair of wins against conference foes, Portland (7-11, 0-3 WCC) and Santa Clara (10-8, 2-2 WCC) last week.

“I think our team had a much more concerted effort for longer periods of time [last week],” said Rose after practice Tuesday. “It’s just that on the road this year, it seems that we have a lot of lapses where we get down.”

“A lot of it isn’t our execution,” Rose added. “A lot of it is the energy and urgency of being in the right place – we’re there but we don’t make the extra effort to make a play or get in the right position to stop guys.”

The Cougars are also struggling to keep opponents off the free throw line on the road with opponents averaging 28.9 free-throw attempts per game in their own gym compared to just 17.6 attempts per game in the Marriott Center.

The drastic differences on defense are paired with a consistent offensive output from the Cougars. Offensively, the Cougars average 83.9 points per game at home and 82.9 points on the road while shooting .480 in the Marriott Center and .467 on the road. Even the free-throw numbers are nearly identical with the Cougars taking 23.7 attempts at home compared to 25.6 on the road.

The Cougars’ road doesn’t get any easier from here, Thursday’s trip to Malibu is followed up by a game against a much improved San Francisco (14-3, 2-1 WCC) team.

“[The defense] is something that I think we can fix,” said Rose. “I think a lot of it had to do with those back-to-back-to-back pretty tough games we had on the road – hopefully we can break through that here.”

“I believe this group of guys can find ourselves and find success on the road,” said Rose. “It’s just one of those things where you have to find it and believe in it and then do it.”

Thursday’s game against Pepperdine tips off at 9 p.m. on ESPNU and can be heard on KSL Radio 102.7 FM/1160 AM.

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