In BYU’s 82-71 loss at home to No. 1 Gonzaga on Feb. 8, senior Matt Haarms was held scoreless and had just one rebound in 16 minutes of play.
During the Cougars’ 10-day layoff after that setback, the coaching staff challenged him to be more physical.
Well, Haarms has responded.
In BYU’s California road sweep this weekend, including Saturday’s 88-71 victory over Loyola Marymount, the 7-foot-3 grad transfer from Purdue displayed a much more physical side of himself.
Against LMU, Haarms scored a team-high 21 points — on 7 of 8 shooting from the floor — grabbed two rebounds, had three assists and blocked a BYU career-high five shots.
“Matt’s been at the point of the vanguard in one of our three keys over that 10-day break,” said coach Mark Pope. “No. 1 was becoming more physical and bringing more physicality to the game. Matt took some ownership on that. He got called out a little bit and it was a struggle, but he’s really embraced that.
“Clearly, he can get way better in terms of his physicality, but if you compare his physicality tonight and versus Pacific to the physicality he displayed against Gonzaga, he’s light-years different. I’m so proud of him. He’s taken this idea of getting better every day seriously. He’s been humble enough to say, ‘I’ve got to do this,’ and he’s been brave and courageous enough to face the issue. Man, he had an unbelievable road trip.”
In the two games this week, Haarms scored 29 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
Pope also praised the way Haarms set the tone for BYU early from a defensive standpoint and the way he limited LMU star Eli Scott.
“His rim protection changed the whole game in the first five minutes,” Pope said. “He made things really hard for Eli early on.”
Haarms gave credit to the coaching staff, including assistant Chris Burgess.
“He really worked with me on guarding Eli Scott not as their primary defender but the guy that’s coming off the dribble,” Haarms said. “We really worked on my timing. … Coach Burgess did a great job preparing me for this game.”
Haarms scored a season-high 23 points against Portland and was a perfect 9 of 9 from the floor on Jan. 21.