BYU Going Into WCC Tourney Healthy With Baxter’s Return

Mar 9, 2019, 1:46 PM | Updated: 2:15 pm

PROVO, Utah – BYU opens WCC tournament play Saturday night, but the Cougars had to wait until late Friday night to see who they’ll share the court with. After clinching the No. 3 seed with an 87-73 win over San Diego, the Cougars played the waiting game.

So instead of game planning for an unknown opponent, the Cougars are preparing to make a run by focusing on themselves.

“[We’re trying to get] our guys back into a positive mindset,” said Head Coach Dave Rose. “We had three or four weeks where I thought we played really good basketball.”

The Cougars finished the season with a 6-2 record in the final stretch of conference play – completely contrary to how the team played for the first part of the season.

“The key is to be consistent,” said junior forward Yoeli Childs. “We have to look how we look in practice, you can’t try and do it yourself.”

The waves of inconsistency led to plenty of ups-and-downs for the Cougars, but the adversity they faced helped prepare them for a pressure packed postseason run.

“You go to the postseason learning from what you faced during the [regular] season,” said junior guard Zac Seljaas. “You keep learning and growing and that’s basically the [cycle] of basketball.”

Baxter Returns

One key to making postseason noise is standout freshman Gavin Baxter. The WCC All-Freshman honoree missed last week’s season finale with an illness after starting the previous seven games. Baxter averaged 27.6 minutes per game in those starts with the Cougars posting a 5-2 record during that stretch.

“Gettin’ Gav back is good,” said Rose. “He’s getting stronger every day.”

“First day back, first competitive session, he had three blocks right at the rim,” Rose added. “He has great basketball instincts, especially on that defensive end around the rim.”

As a starter, Baxter had an immediate impact on both ends of the court averaging 9.9 points per game while recorded 2 or more blocks in five games – a return to full strength bolsters the Cougar lineup.

“You come back and you’re a little bit more weak. He’s come a long way after being that ill,” said Seljaas.

Yoeli’s Last Ride?

Could this be the last WCC tournament appearance for BYU’s star forward Yoeli Childs? When asked if he’s given any thought about leaving BYU to play professional basketball, he said his focus is with BYU.

“My thoughts are [on] tomorrow having a great practice, having a great game [Saturday], and taking this team as far as we can go,” said Childs. “Obviously it’s something you think about a little bit, but right now my focus is on our team right now.”

The two-time first-team All-WCC forward declared for the NBA draft last season, but remained eligible by not hiring an agent. He used the process as a tool to receive feedback and improve his game for a better opportunity to play in the league.

Childs can further explore opportunities this offseason, thanks to new rule changes passed last August. Childs can declare for the draft, participate in the NBA combine, and if he is not drafted, can return to school as long as he has notified BYU’s athletic director of his intent to return by 5 pm the Monday following the draft. Prior to the change, NCAA basketball players could declare, but until May 30th to decide if they would return to school or not.

As the leader of the Cougar basketball team, he’s helping the team keep a united front as they fight to keep their season alive, one game at a time.

“To win a championship is hard, and it takes everybody. No one play can do it themselves. If we play together then I think we can go take care of business.”

BYU will face San Diego in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament on Saturday at 10 p.m. on ESPN2 and KSL Newsradio.

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