BYU sports information director Ralph Zobell was speaking at Tuesday's Kiwanis Club meeting, when he mentioned senior guard Kari Gallup made eight 3-pointers against Air Force. Someone in the crowd called out, "So how do we get her on the men's team?"
Welcome to BYU, home of the exploding jump shot. The place where a wide-open 15-footer can turn into Mr. Toad's Wild Ride."It's an experience thing; it's a confidence thing; it's an ability thing," said BYU men's coach Steve Cleveland. "It's one thing if you have done this before, and it's another thing to have done it at this level."
Indeed, in a year in which the Cougars have made major strides in some areas - wins, for example - they continue to struggle with their shooting. This year's 6-13 Cougars are actually shooting worse than last year's 1-25 team. A year ago the Cougars shot .398 from the field, this year they're making shots at a frightful .376 clip. Only four players are shooting over 40 percent - excluding Talmadge Eyre, who has taken only two shots.
In the WAC, the Cougars are even worse, shooting just .360 from the field.
"I think guys are more conscious of it and know if we're going to win we've got to make the easy baskets," allowed senior Justin Weidauer.
If the Cougars do intend to get their shooting game going, this would be a good time. Tonight at 7 in the Marriott Center they host New Mexico, ranked 14th in the nation. With four WAC losses, the Cougars are in dire need of a win to stay in contention for a berth in the conference tournament.
In truth, they don't need shooters as much as athletes. Cleveland has been frank about his team's inability to create shots. He has only one player, guard Ron Selleaze, who can score off the dribble. The rest must rely on execution, screens and passes. That has worked in some cases. Guard Danny Bower, who began the year shooting miserably, has become the team's second-best scoring threat, having made seven 3-pointers against Ohio State and five straight against Wyoming.
Still, the concern continues. As was the case last weekend against Air Force, players are now missing even wide-open shots. "It's not one thing, where you could say they're nervous or that they're not good shooters," continued Cleveland. "It's a combination of a lot of things."
The reasons for the BYU slump are many:
- The team fails to run the offense up and ends up taking bad shots at the end of the shot clock.
- Inexperience on a Division I level.
- The Cougars haven't been getting early, easy shots to build confidence.
- The team takes desperation shots, trying to make up a large deficit.
- BYU relies on Selleaze to bail them out of tough situations.
- Fatigue is taking a toll late in games.
- The players are thinking too much.
"It does get frustrating," said Selleaze.
In several games the Cougars hung close in the first half, but drifted in the final 10 minutes. Against Air Force they shot a boisterous 65 percent in the first half but made only one-fourth of their second-half attempts. In winning against Pepperdine they made 52 percent of their first-half shots but only 28 percent in the second half.
Overall, BYU has actually shot better in the second half in 13 of the team's 19 games. But when the Cougars go sour, they reek. For the season the Cougars have made 38 percent of their first-half shots and 30 percent in the second half.
"We forget the games are 40 minutes long," said Weidauer.
Players and coaches are talking this week about "pro-active rather than reactive offense" - concentrating on attacking the basket, rather than waiting for open shots. Outside scorer Danny Bower and slasher Selleaze have been given the green light to shoot whenever necessary.
Cleveland plans to get Selleaze the ball for the last 10 or 15 seconds of the shot clock, allowing him time to either create a shot or pass to an open teammate.
Meanwhile, the first-year coach is hoping his young team can mature quickly. "Playing at this level," concluded Cleveland, "is a huge jump. But most of our young men have just not made that adjustment."
1st half: .380
2nd half: .300
Games below 30 percent: 5
Games below 40 percent: 11