Gavin Baxter Is A Player To Watch For BYU Against Santa Clara’s Big Frontcourt
PROVO, Utah – If there’s a stat involving college basketball you can probably find it on Ken Pomeroy’s website, KenPom.com. To highlight this fact, you can even find rankings for who the tallest teams are in college basketball. One of those teams that are up there in the tallest teams in America is the Santa Clara Broncos.
The Broncos, who BYU hosts Thursday night at the Marriott Center in the penultimate regular-season home game, is the 15th tallest team in college hoops this year. Herb Sendek’s Broncos boasts eight players that stand over 6’6″, with five of those players checking in over 6’9″ in the frontcourt.
By comparison, BYU is 76th nationally in team height averaging 77.5″ per player, but the Cougars got even smaller after Dalton Nixon suffered an ankle injury last week in a win at LMU.
Now BYU will look for contributions off of the bench from high-flying sophomore forward Gavin Baxter and they’ll need every bit of Baxter’s 7’3″ wingspan to counter the size from the Broncos.
But how big of a contribution can be expected from Baxter in only his fourth game this season? Baxter missed the first 25 games of his sophomore campaign due to a torn labrum in September and has been working his way back to find chemistry and a consistent spot in the rotation with this talented team.
“He’s really doing a good job,” said BYU coach Mark Pope on Baxter’s progress. “He’s made really good progress these last three days. I think he feels way more comfortable, I think the guys feel a little more comfortable, and I think a little more comfortable. That’s just a process and it’s a process that’s going to be sit and starts. Maybe he has an unbelievable 12-minute stretch against Santa Clara and maybe he’s a disaster against Gonzaga or vice-versa. But it’s just how you grow.”
In three games this season, Baxter has averaged eight minutes per game and has yet to make a field goal. But offense isn’t where Baxter is looking to have his impact every night with this team that already has a high-powered offense. It’s around the rim and on the offensive rebounds. Baxter is averaging 2.3 rebounds per game and will look to get some second and third chance opportunities for a BYU offense that is one of the nation’s worst on the offensive glass averaging slightly over six per game, which is in the bottom 10 nationally.
“I do know that his (Baxter) trajectory overall is going to be really fast and really positive because he’s had a good week so far,” Pope said.
Baxter wanted to play instead of redshirt
Coming into the season, Baxter was going to be looked upon to have a big role and impact the game on both ends of the floor. But once he had the torn labrum, there was a thought he was going to miss the entire season. But Baxter didn’t want to do that, he wanted a chance to play with this team.
“I think there was thought for a short time just saying, you know, let’s take this year off, rehab the shoulder get it back to 100 percent and shoot for next year. But, I just love basketball and I wanted to be part of this team and so I did whatever I could to get back to playing,” Baxter said to KSL Sports.
Herb Sendek and Mark Pope have a long history together
When Mark Pope was a heralded recruit out of Newport High School in Bellevue, Washington, current Santa Clara head coach Herb Sendek was an assistant on Rick Pitino’s staff at Kentucky. Kentucky, like so many other schools around the country, offered Pope a scholarship and Sendek was the one who was actively recruiting Pope for the Wildcats.
Pope ended up signing with Washington out of high school but later transferred to Kentucky. When Pope arrived at Kentucky, Sendek began his first head coaching stint at Miami (Ohio) in the Mid-American Conference.
This will be the first time Pope and Sendek have gone up against each other as head coaches.
How to Watch and Listen to BYU vs. Santa Clara
No. 23 BYU vs. Santa Clara
Tip: 7 p.m. (MST)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM, 1160 AM
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.