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Is this the best 3-point shooting team in BYU history? We asked a former Cougar star

The Cougars are shooting 42.6% from 3-point territory — No. 1 in the country and No. 2 in total 3-pointers made (277).

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BYU Cougars guard Jake Toolson (5) shoots for 3 against UNLV Rebels guard Marvin Coleman (31) during the second half of a basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.

Colter Peterson, Deseret News

PROVO — Not only does BYU lead the country in 3-point shooting percentage this season, but former star Jonathan Tavernari, one of the Cougars’ greatest all-time 3-point sharpshooters, also believes this year’s team is the best 3-point shooting squad in school history.

And there are plenty of statistics that back up that claim. 

BYU is No. 3 nationally in 3-pointers made per game (10.7), better than the top team in Cougar hoops history, the 2015-16 team that averaged 8.9.

The Cougars are shooting 42.6% from 3-point territory — No. 1 in the country and No. 2 in total 3-pointers made with 277. BYU is on pace to break the single-season school-record for 3s made, which was set by the 2015-16 team (330).

The last time a BYU team shot above 40% from 3-point range for a season (41.7) was in 2009-10, which included Tavernari on the roster. A year ago, the Cougars shot just 33% from 3.

This season, BYU has already tied the school record for most 3-pointers in a game (17) twice this season — against Virginia Tech and at home versus Pepperdine.

Against San Francisco last Saturday, the Cougars sank 12 3-pointers, marking the 14th time this season BYU has made double-digit 3s in a game — a new program record. 

“There was never a BYU team that literally had six or seven guys at all times that were a 3-point threat when they’re on the court,” said Tavernari, who ranks No. 2 all-time in 3-pointers, behind consensus All-American Jimmer Fredette. “That’s never happened in BYU history before.”

Senior guard Jake Toolson is No. 2 in the country in 3-point percentage at 49%. He’s also on pace to set the school record for career 3-point field goal percentage at 46.2%

“You can make an argument that Jake Toolson is the best pure shooter in college basketball the last couple years,” tweeted Stadium Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman this week. 

After knocking down 6 of 8 3-pointers in a win at Portland last week, Toolson just smiled when asked about his 3-point shooting.

“This team, we shoot the ball well,” he said. “I got a lot of good looks tonight. That’s my job, to knock down shots. Everyone else is going to do it, too.”

BYU’s best 3-point shooting team, percentage-wise, was the 1987-88 squad (featuring Michael Smith, Brian Taylor, Marty Haws, Andy Toolson and Nathan Call), which shot 45.2% from 3-point range, but it attempted only 323 3-pointers, making 146. The 2019-20 Cougars have hoisted 650 3-point attempts.

The 2006-07 team, on which Tavernari played (along with Lee Cummard, Jimmy Balderson, Austin Ainge, Mike Rose and Sam Burgess) hit 265 of 617 3s, a 42.9% clip — good for No. 4 all-time at BYU.

The legendary Cougar team that advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2011, led by Fredette, doesn’t crack the top 10 in school history, shooting 36% from 3.  

“With that team, it was give the ball to Jimmer and get out of the way because of how good he was at BYU,” Tavernari said. “But with this team, you never know who is going to be the difference-maker on any given night.”

It’s not only Toolson that’s scorching the nets from deep — there’s Childs (57.1%), Alex Barcello (48.8%), Connor Harding (43.9%), Kolby Lee (41.7%), Dalton Nixon (39.3%), TJ Haws (38.2%) and Zac Seljaas (34.1%).

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla noted in a tweet the number of Cougars shooting over 40% from 3-point territory “and none named TJ Haws. You do not want to see them in your bracket.”

Haws, by the way, has climbed to No. 3 in school history in 3-pointers made with 233, 32 behind Tavernari’s 265. Seljaas is No. 7 in career 3-pointers made with 163. Fredette holds the school record with 296.

And the Cougars are making clutch 3-pointers, too. Haws hit a memorable game-winning 3 against Saint Mary’s on Feb. 1. After BYU watched its 25-point lead dwindle down to seven points with 2:30 remaining last Saturday night against San Francisco, Childs and Toolson knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers within 20 seconds of each other to essentially slam the door on the Dons in a 90-76 win.

Three-point shooting aside, BYU is also ranked in the top 10 in several other offensive categories — third in overall field goal percentage (50.7), second in assist to turnover ratio (1.57) and fourth in assists per game (17.8). The Cougars are also No. 13 in scoring (80.5).

According to KenPom.com, BYU is shooting 59% in effective field goal percentage and 55.8% on 2-point shots.

The Cougars have now shot 50% or better in nine consecutive games, tying the longest single-season streak in school history. The record was originally set at the end of the 1988-89 season. 

What accounts for all this success shooting the ball? The players credit putting in a lot of work, using analytics to know which shots are most optimal for them and they also credit first-year coach Mark Pope, who instills confidence in his players to take, and make, good shots. 

“Every single guy on this team can shoot,” Barcello said. “I trust anyone on this team to make an open shot or a contested shot. We have a team full of shooters.”

“It really helps us to spread the floor and we all have confidence in each other,” Nixon said. “That’s been a huge part of the offseason with the new coaching staff, to make shots.”

“I think when you play the right way,” Childs said, “shots fall.”

Because of BYU’s stellar 3-point shooting, many opposing teams choose not to double-team Childs. But they do so at their own peril because not only is Childs difficult to stop in the paint, but is also adept at finding an open 3-point shooter. And he can drill 3s, too.

“They know Yoeli can put up 32 (points) and still, by the numbers you’re like, ‘We’ve probably got to take it. We’ll live with it rather then let these guys shoot 42% from the 3-point line,’” Pope said. “It’s a pick-your-poison thing. There have been a handful of teams that have decided not to monster (Childs). I don’t fault them for that because it’s hard. He’s such an effective passer out of the post.”

Pope’s offensive philosophy?

“We judge our guys whether they own the shot more than whether they actually make the shot, it’s a more important metric,” he said. “We’re going to make shots. That’s what we do. We make shots and we believe we’re going to make shots. We don’t judge ourselves by shots made as much as shots owned. If you own your shot, then you’re going to make a large portion of them.”

And, judging by the numbers produced so far, these Cougars just might be the best 3-point shooting team in school history.

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