Have you ever been pushing a big pile of snow across a driveway and just as you feel you are making progress, the shovel collides with an uneven crack and not only stops your momentum, but scatters the snow you were shoveling?
Even more maddening is when you line up and do it again and again. Eventually, the frustration reaches a boiling point and you start shoveling harder while verbally lambasting the stupidity of the crack.
One can only wonder what the driveway would say if it could talk back to the shoveler. Perhaps it would suggest a strategy adjustment because the unevenness isn’t going away until a new driveway can be constructed in the offseason — summer.
Too much snow in the driveway isn’t Mark Pope’s problem, it’s the turnovers on the court that has the Cougars operating on a self-created uneven surface in the West Coast Conference — and they are frustrated.
BYU’s four conference defeats are by a combined 21 points. During those four games, the Cougars handed their opponents a combined 64 extra possessions by way of turnovers. Some of those opponents returned the favor, but not in ways that cost them the game.
BYU lost at Loyola Marymount 64-59 in a game where the Cougars gave the Lions 13 extra possessions. The Cougars conceded 17 extra possessions to No. 9 Gonzaga in a 75-74 defeat. Last week, BYU gave Santa Clara 19 extra possessions and lost 83-76 and then gave San Francisco 15 extra possessions in an 82-74 defeat.
In each of those losses, BYU showed flashes of fantastic basketball, but inevitably, like a shoveler hitting a crack in the driveway, turnovers knocked them off course.
Note to the Cougars: Christmas is over. The season of giving has passed.
As BYU (14-9, 4-4) prepares to host first-place Saint Mary’s (18-4, 7-0) on Saturday (8 p.m. MST, ESPN2), it sits dead last in the WCC with 362 turnovers — 112 more than the Gaels and 62 more than last-place Pepperdine.
Whatever the Cougars are doing isn’t working. Like the snow shoveler who is frustrated by constantly hitting the crack in the driveway, Pope needs to change his strategy, or he is going to go insane. The idea of having to defeat two teams in the same game (themselves and the opponent) is a poor recipe for success.
Fortunately for BYU, it has all week to figure it out and the mistakes are consistent enough to recognize and correct. Too often, the Cougars are too casual dribbling at the top of the key, they are lazy with their passes, too late with their ball screens, and there seems to be drama on every defended inbounds pass.
Most of that is attention, or a lack thereof, to detail — which can be emphasized vehemently in practice by the coaching staff. Tweaking the lineup or pumping the brakes on a wide-open offensive attack is Pope’s call as well. There is a big difference between playing carefree and careless. But as for the performance on the court, that is up to each individual player — even the young ones who now have 23 games under their belts.
Adding to the frustration is the fact that the Cougars are succeeding in other key areas of the game. BYU leads the WCC in steals, blocks and defensive rebounds. The Cougars are No. 2 in offensive rebounds and scoring defense and No. 3 in assists. They sit at No. 6 in scoring — a byproduct of giving the ball away so much. Fewer turnovers can easily turn into more points.
This is why Pope hasn’t given up on his team. The players are doing enough good things to show promise, and the things that are holding them back are fixable. He said when the season began, “It’s going to be an adventure every night with this group” — and he was right. Pope has a team that is capable of upsetting No. 22 Saint Mary’s on Saturday — but only if it takes care of the ball.
Cougars on the air
Saint Mary’s (18-4, 7-0)
at BYU (14-9, 4-4)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MST
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
An uneven driveway is a snow shoveler’s nightmare, but it can still be shoveled — just differently and with a lot of patience. An uneven basketball game, caused by turnovers, is a nightmare for coaches and fans, but it can be corrected, with a lot of practice — and patience.
The season for making major repairs is months away when summer comes, both for driveways and basketball rosters, but here in the dead of winter, you make the most of what you have. That’s why this week of practice is so critical for BYU to get things right to avoid another painful Saturday night.
As for the shovelers, preparation for the weekend is also encouraged. KSL-TV’s Kevin Eubank has more snow in the forecast. Avoiding those cracks in the driveway is paramount to preventing another miserable experience.
For both, it’s time for a strategy twist. Advil can only do so much.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.