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Calling BYU: 2 things Cougars must remember

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MILWAUKEE — Before the age of cell phones and Skype, long distance was a big deal. The black phone on the wall would ring and an operator would say something like, “Person-to-person, long distance calling.”

That really got your attention.

Nowadays, not so much. At least it seems that way with the BYU Cougars. Try telling them someone is calling from afar. They might walk off and leave the line open.

As the Cougars await their first-round NCAA tournament game against Oregon on Thursday, one of their biggest concerns has to be defending the 3-point shot. Does the name Bobby Sharp sound familiar? It should. He’s the Portland guard who came off the bench in a midseason shocker, making eight 3-pointers. You might say he was dialed in. So much so that he made it seem as though he was right up close.

If it seems BYU has faced an inordinate number of hot-shooting players this year, there's good reason. The Cougars rank 170th nationally in 3-point defense. Word on the lowdown is that if your team is anywhere outside the arc, initiate the launch sequence. Oregon knew that, trying 32 3-pointers in its December win over the Cougars. Turned out the Ducks made just 10 of them, but it was enough.

The rhyme on BYU goes like this: Make your day — shoot the trey.

Most disconcerting to the Cougars is that Oregon can make 3-pointers. It is connecting on 39 percent of them, 18th-best in the country. But the Ducks are far from the only ones to notice BYU’s trouble securing the borders. Massachusetts made nine of 22 3-pointers (39 percent) in a December win. That’s not sensational, but it’s surely helpful. Loyola Marymount made eight of 17 (47 percent), led by Evan Payne’s 5-of-9 performance.

Then 3-point fever really began picking up speed. Pepperdine hit 13 of 24 (54 percent) as it handed BYU its second conference loss. Malcom Brooks was the leader, landing six long shots.

San Francisco made half of its 10 treys in the first game against BYU, but failed to capitalize. Then came Portland’s 14-of-23 barrage, punctuated by the Pilots’ display of serious Sharpshooting.

The list goes on. Gonzaga made 10 of 22 distance shots, spurred by Kevin Pangos’ six. Pacific executed an upset thanks to 10 treys of its own. In BYU’s conference tournament loss to Gonzaga, the Bulldogs landed a significant six of 13 treys. However, BYU could have overcome even torrid opponent shooting if it could make its free throws. In the loss to Portland, Sharp’s scoring was key, but so was BYU’s inability to convert from the line; it missed 14 foul shots.

It’s a sneaking suspicion the Cougars can be exploited from 3-point range but also by fouling for profit. Their 69 percent from the line is just 201st nationally. This isn’t just an early-season problem, either. In its last two regular-season games, BYU shot a combined 28-44, and followed by making a coolish 25-36 in the WCC tournament opener.

It’s no wonder coach Dave Rose was happy but subdued when he met with the media after learning the Cougars had earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament.

“I think you never want to act too excited because you gotta go play the game and the game’s going to be a real challenge,” Rose said. “But I think the feel of everybody is we’re up for it, let’s go do it.”

Free throws and 3-point defense included.

To complicate things, Oregon is the country’s sixth-best free-throw shooting team (.766), so the Cougars might not want to make it a foul-shooting contest on Thursday. In their first meeting this year, that’s what took them down, as they missed 14 times in a four-point overtime loss.

The Cougars have some nice things going, including the third-highest scoring average in the nation (84.2). Rebounding, avoiding turnovers and playing with composure will all be factors. But they can almost guarantee a win if they just defend the perimeter and make their charity tosses. Those are principles that go back to the Bell Telephone days. Beware long distance charges; they can kill you. And take advantage of any offers that are free.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged