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BYU ready for Beehive Classic, then Utah, with new approach, four-game winning streak

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Dave Rose in the huddle during a timeout as BYU and Illinois State play in an NCAA men's basketball game in Provo on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. BYU won 80-68.
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Dave Rose in the huddle during a timeout as BYU and Illinois State play in an NCAA men's basketball game in Provo on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. BYU won 80-68.
Scott G Winterton,

The Beehive Classic that kicks off Saturday at Vivint Arena will introduce a different kind of BYU team to Weber State.

Gone is the run and gun. Back is deliberate valued possession offense. Where little defense was played a year ago, this year's Dave Rose-led squad will shed some sweat on that end of the court.

The result? Well, so far it’s a 7-2 record after BYU dispatched Illinois State Wednesday night in the Marriott Center 80-68.

The Cougars ended the game with four guards on the court, Elijah Bryant (17 points and 9 rebounds), TJ Haws (20 points) Jahshire Hardnett, and McKay Cannon. And they really, truly like to see each other bury shots.

It remains to be seen how good this squad is if it can build on a four-game win streak by extending it to six against the Wildcats and then the tough, hardnosed Utes in the Marriott Center next Saturday.

Is this team tough enough? Deep enough? Consistent enough? Talented enough?

Well, we do know it is different, thanks to the emphasis put by Heath Schroyer, a defensive-minded coach who has impacted both ends of the Cougars' play.

Illinois State gave BYU some good fodder for the Wildcats. The Redbirds were not tall but had quickness and good shooters and after being down to the Cougars by 28, made a late run to force some effort out of BYU down the stretch.

Rose had to be happy that Haws found his range. His 20 points tied Taylor Bruninga for top honors. It marked the first game this season Haws led the Cougars in scoring. His previous high was 18 against Niagara.

“It was good that I felt we got open looks in the first half,” said Haws. “Everyone was helping by making the extra pass and doing those kinds of things. I thought everyone was getting good looks and guys were finding me for open shots and that helped a lot.”

A gunslinger at heart, Haws is a dangerous shooter and zone defenses are his kingdom. But coming into this Illinois State game, Haws was just 4 of 24 in his last four games for a slump-like 16 percent from distance.

Haws' beyond-the-arc futility is something shooters go through and the best remedy for most is to keep shooting. A year ago as a freshman, Haws shot a sizzling 41 percent from downtown, an amazing feat coming off an LDS mission and the run and gun style of that struggling team a year ago may have given him more rhythm than this season’s more deliberate style.

But when the Redbirds threw a zone at the Cougars, Haws responded by making six of his 12 first-half shots and 3 of 6 from long range to lead the team with 15 points in the initial 20 minutes.

In the second half, Haws’ fourth 3-pointer came off a screen by Bryant and it was a good four feet behind the arc for a 55-31 BYU lead with 14:59 to play.

“Everyone who is a shooter, you see zone and your eyes get wide,” said Bryant.

But with this 2017-18 team, hitting threes isn’t a sprint to the line. It comes with some patience and timing, a mixture of inside and back out, everyone looking out for the next guy.

Gone from this group are two of Haws’ Lone Peak running mates: Eric Mika and Nick Emery. It’s natural he'll go through an adjustment period and he appears to like it just fine, as do his teammates. The pace makes things efficient. Nobody has to out-do anyone else or try and do it all on their own.

It is noticeable.

It certainly was Wednesday night. Bryant didn’t even know he almost had a triple-double.

“I was just playing the game, trying to help the team,” said Bryant.

“We talk about playing team basketball on both ends of the floor,” said Haws. “When you do that, and when you are making that extra pass and playing as a team, it gives everyone a lot of confidence. When you have your open shot you shoot it, man, and everyone feels that way. We are all building off each other’s confidence.”

Both Bryant and Haws said they are looking forward to playing in an NBA arena and against Weber State.

“It’s good to be home and play in front of our fans,” said Haws. “Weber State is a very good team and we’re looking forward to it.”

Something that describes this edition of Rose’s 12th BYU team?

Wednesday, it was 31 field goals with 22 assists.

On the season, BYU has 232 field goals on 146 assists.

That is the embodiment of sharing.