PROVO — Around the BYU basketball program, it’s known as a “kill.”
It’s not a statistic tracked by the NCAA, but it’s a stat that Cougar players keep on the forefront of their minds, especially during games.
By definition, a kill is when a team gets three defensive stops in a row. The concept was introduced to BYU by assistant coach Heath Schroyer when he was hired by Dave Rose last spring.
In last Saturday’s dominating 84-50 victory at Santa Clara, the Cougars recorded a staggering 11 kills.
“Our goal every game is to try to get to seven kills,” Schroyer said. “You get six or seven in a game, mathematically, it gives you a good chance to win. We’ve had eight or nine at times on teams I’ve been a part of. But I’ve never been part of a team that’s had 11. That’s a whole lot.”
In the second half, BYU held the Broncos without a field goal for more than 12 minutes and Santa Clara missed 17 consecutive shots during that stretch as part of a 19-1 run that saw the Cougars’ lead balloon to 38 points.
For a program that has struggled defensively the past several years, the kill stat has helped BYU, coaches and players agree.
Schroyer serves as the Cougars’ associate head coach, and not long after he rejoined the program — he was a BYU assistant under Steve Cleveland and was on the staff with Rose from 1997-2001 — he told Rose about kills, a stat Schroyer instituted while head coach at UT Martin a few years ago.
“I don’t know where it originated. I think I actually read it somewhere,” Schroyer said of the kill stat. “When I was at Tennessee-Martin, it was something that we adopted and used. It really helped us. It’s just something that is really tangible in the middle of a game to talk to your team about.
"There’s a lot of metrics and ways to measure the game nowadays, but you can play pretty good defense and give up an offensive rebound and a score. When I came here, I talked to (Rose) about it and he was really excited about it. It’s something that’s really taken off and our guys have really bought into it. We measure it throughout every game.”
Director of basketball operations Andrew May keeps track of kills on the bench during games and lets the players know their progress.
“I always ask him how many we have. He does a great job with it,” Schroyer said of May. “The guys have recognized it. It’s the first thing we talk about before we take the floor and it’s the first thing we talk about at halftime.
"After the game, the day after, it’s the first thing we put up on the board after the game — how many did we get? When we don’t get close to our goal, we struggle to win. When we do, we usually find a way to win.”
Forward Yoeli Childs said the focus on getting kills translates into an emphasis on playing defense.
“You can always hear (May) after a couple of stops, ‘One more for a kill!’ It’s always on our mind,” Childs said. “That helps us lock in on the defensive end, knowing that we need to get three in a row. We know there’s been games where our shots haven’t fallen. We know that if we get those kills and we lock down on the defensive end, everything takes care of itself. If we get seven kills, we can’t lose.”
At Pacific, where the Cougars lost 67-66 on Jan. 6, BYU recorded only two kills. In a 74-64 overtime loss against Saint Mary’s, the Cougars had five kills.
“We had three kills in the first half against Saint Mary’s. We knew if we got seven kills, we win the game,” Childs said. “That’s how it works. We ended up with five. We couldn’t get that sixth or seventh kill to end the game. We can learn from that.”
There are many ways to measure defensive effort, including points allowed and field goal percentage allowed.
This season, BYU is giving up 65.1 points per game, compared to 74.3 points a year ago. But that probably reveals more about the slower, more deliberate pace the Cougars are running this season.
Meanwhile, BYU opponents are shooting 44 percent from the field, including 33 percent from 3-point range, this season. Last year, the Cougars’ opponents shot 41 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range. BYU’s team defensive efficiency is .938, ranked No. 45 nationally this season, compared to .961 last season, No. 50 in the country.
All that aside, the program has emphasized this stat known as a kill.
“We put a lot of stock into it. It’s a huge measurement in my opinion. It’s not the end-all, be-all, but it’s pretty dang close,” Schroyer said. “It’s something that you always have to find ways to hold guys accountable in things that are tangible. Being able to go into a defensive possession and say, ‘Hey, we’ve two stops, we need one more for a kill.’ Or tell guys at a timeout, ‘We have two kills right now. We need to get to that third or fourth in the half.’
"It’s something our guys have really bought into. It’s something that’s really simple that they can grasp onto in the middle of a game. It gives immediate feedback. It’s a short-term goal during a long-term game. That’s part of the reason why it’s been successful for us.”