PROVO — Five players are scoring more than 75 percent of BYU's points this season, but how well the No. 16 Cougars finish the year could depend on the play of three guys not included in that group.
As a college basketball season wears on the players who play the most minutes tend to wear down. That's why bench play is such a critical part in how a team finishes the year.
"Late in the season, especially, your bench takes a whole new role," BYU coach Dave Rose said.
Senior Jonathan Tavernari looks more comfortable and confident in his sixth-man role with each passing game. So the Cougar reserves who are going to need to provide consistent and productive minutes down the stretch are back-up point guard Michael Loyd Jr., reserve center Brandon Davies and back-up swingman Charles Abouo. Along with Tavernari, those three are going to get the majority of BYU's bench minutes from this point on.
"We have a lot of confidence in our bench, and those guys will be a key factor going down the stretch here," Rose said.
With the knee injury suffered by regular back-up point guard Lamont Morgan Jr., Loyd's role is going to be especially significant in keeping starter Jimmer Fredette fresh.
"If the coach needs me, if the team needs me, I'm going to be ready to go," Loyd said. "And Jimmer is going to get tired playing the way we play, so I need to come in and keep things going the way Jimmer has them going."
Loyd has been used mostly this season as a back-up to the two position. However, he feels his speed, ball-handling ability and defensive skills are more suited to play the point — so he welcomes his new role.
"It's more of a natural position to me and that's the position I've always been taught. I like to push the ball up and get things running," he said.
When Davies was out against UNLV and played only two minutes against TCU, his absence was noticeable. The Cougars were hesitant to go into the post when starter Chris Miles came out, and their offensive production in the paint seemed to suffer as well.
"Chris has become a great facilitator in the post, and it seemed like when he left the game we became a lot more perimeter oriented. And with Brandon, our guys are pretty confident in throwing the ball down there to him and getting something good to happen," Rose said.
Davies, who played 12 minutes last Saturday against Air Force, is no longer slowed by his Feb. 3 appendectomy.
"They need me back just to come in and be a reliever off the bench when we need it," Davies said. "I need to contribute the best I can offensively and defensively, to try to get as many boards as I can and just play within our system."
Abouo is a little ahead of Loyd and Davies on the contribution curve, and is on a stretch of several solid performances where he's more than adequately spelled guards Jackson Emery and Tyler Haws.
"When I come in I just need to make sure I play hard," Abouo said. "If I can get some rebounds, provide a little defensive spark and score a few baskets, that will be a pretty big boost for our team."
The need for reliable bench play begins Wednesday night when the Cougars face a much-improved Colorado State team at Moby Arena. Even though the Rams appeared outmatched in BYU's 91-47 crush-job in January at the Marriott Center, they're still in the hunt for a postseason berth and hungry for revenge.
"It's a scary team because they play different. They extended defenses. They try to speed you up, and they press a little bit," Rose said.
And so far, the Cougars have been pretty good at keeping their focus on the game at hand and not looking past anyone.
"We know that any team in this league can beat us on any given night," Rose said.
Cougars on the Air
BYU (23-3, 8-2) vs. Colorado State (15-9, 6-4)
Today, 6 p.m.
TV: The Mtn.
Radio: KSL 1160 AM , 102.7 FM