Image: Mark Philbrick/BYUCougars.com
After arguably suffering the upset of the year against the San Francisco Dons on Thursday, the Brigham Young Cougars used a 19-0 second half run to defeat the San Diego Toreros 64-50 yesterday afternoon.
With the win they gain sole possession of second place in the West Coast Conference and keep themselves within striking distance of the Gonzaga Bulldogs for the conference championship.
But most important was that they showed the level of defensive intensity during that second half run that was absent against USF and needed if they expect to win the WCC title and NCAA automatic bid.
Chris Peterson of the Deseret News summarized the defensive strategy that helped BYU go on that 19-0 run in his recap yesterday.
Another key to the Cougars’ victory was the fact they played zone on defense, something Judkins rarely does, but was convinced that it would be effective against the Toreros.
“I’ve got to give my coaches a lot of credit,” Judkins said. “I’m not a zone coach, but they convinced me to do it.”
The adjustment paid off, as San Diego shot just 27 percent in the second half.
Even more significant though, they played defense with a vigor that simply wasn’t present when USF was busy shooting nearly 40% from 3-point land on them.
However, the key statistic in the game was BYU’s rebounding – in the first meeting between these two teams, BYU was out-rebounded in a win. Yesterday, BYU almost flipped that differential, winning it by +13.6%. While a lot of people talk about how difficult it is to rebound out of a zone set, BYU did an outstanding job of both forcing missed shots and boxing out to recover them.
But the other thing that stood out – which simply hasn’t been done justice this year – is the ability of senior point guard Haley Steed, whose 5 assists moved her into second place in career assists in BYU history.
In BYU’s last three games – the Gonzaga blowout, the USF upset, and the USD win – the tide has started to turn when Steed begins making plays. She has the ability as a distributor to control the game in ways that are rare for a college point guard. She’s not Courtney Vandersloot, but she does similar things for her team on the floor as a distributor. And like Vandersloot, it’s not so much about her scoring but her decision-making with the ball, controlling the pace of play, and the precision timing of her passes, whether it be a soft bounce pass to a streaking player on a break or simple swing pass that sets up a pass to a player in the post.
Part of the reason she doesn’t get more attention is obvious though – she scores 8.5 points per game and only shoots 33.8% from the field. But somehow, she manages to start making shots when her team needs it and that ability to make the right plays at the right time trumps making the spectacular scoring play.