The slump that wouldn't die

"The slump that wouldn't die" – it sounds like the name of a horror movie. Frankly, BYU's outside shooting during the past six games has been horrifying. During that span the Cougars went 4-2 but only shot 17-of-101 (16.8 percent) from three. Coach Rose said the team has spent the past week putting up a lot of shots in practice, while his players say they aren't about to stop shooting in games.

When the Cougars shot 11-of-24 from three during the January 16 road game at San Diego, they surely could not have seen the troubles that awaited them.

Three days later they shot a woeful 2-of-25 from three during a home loss to Loyala Marymount. It was the start of a six-game stretch in which they would only once make more than three shots from beyond the arc, and that was a 5-of-24 performance at Virginia Tech. It hadn't mattered whether the Cougars have played good teams or bad teams; they just can't seem to buy a long-distance bucket, other than a few big ones late against the Hokies.

BYU could sure use Jimmer Fredette, who alone has matched the Cougars' 17 made threes in the past six games with 17 of his own in the past seven NBA games he's played in. And, those 17 makes came on only 29 attempts, compared to BYU's 101.

Still, don't tell junior backup point guard Craig Cusick that the team is in a slump.

"You know, everyone's calling this a slump," Cusick said. "I don't even think of it as a slump. You know, shooters, you're gonna miss percentages, you're gonna miss some shots, you're gonna have some bad games for everybody."

The Cougars have definitely missed some shots. During the past six games from beyond the arc, Charles Abouo shot 4-of-20, Brock Zylstra shot 2-of-21 and Matt Carlino shot 3-of-27. Combined, the three shot 9-of-68 from outside (13.2 percent).

But, as he had done in several other games this season when the team was playing sluggishly, Cusick provided a spark against Portland last Saturday and hit a few timely shots from the perimeter.

Cusick's performance, he said, was "just because the other guys had confidence in me, and I'm gonna return that trust to others ‘cause I know that my teammates will start to hit shots as well."

In the past six games, Cusick has shot 3-of-9 from outside. That's hardly extraordinary, but compared to most of his teammates, it's pretty impressive.

Still, Cusick and his teammates aren't giving up on each other, despite the nearly team-wide struggles with perimeter shooting.

"We have such great shooters on this team that no one's not gonna pass someone the ball anymore," said Cusick.

Coach Rose, meanwhile, hasn't discouraged his players from shooting.

"Anyone with open looks has gotta shoot it. Otherwise, [Rose will] be mad if you don't shoot it," said Cusick with a smirk.

Rose said repetition and spending more time shooting are ways that players can get their shot back. He added that they must believe the next shot is going in.

"What we really dwell on is the ones we've made, and that's the way we play, and we'll make a lot more," said Rose.

In some recent games, despite all that encouragement, the Cougars haven't shot a particularly high amount of threes.

"I think some of it's part of our strategy as a team," said Cusick, "and how we've been coached is to play inside-out where we go into our big guys, ‘cause Noah [Hartsock] and Brandon [Davies] both have such a huge affect on this team and our offense."

He also noted that some teams have opted to not collapse on Hartsock or Davies when they get the ball down low, thus prevent the Cougars from getting more opportunities from outside.

Cusick was able to also make some plays against Portland when driving to the rim. Fellow point guard Matt Carlino seemingly rediscovered that aspect of his game during the second half of the recent game against Saint Mary's, and built on that with a big game against Gonzaga. With the poor outside shooting, the team's emphasis on playing down low, and the guards driving to the rim, 129 of BYU's 146 made field goals (88.3 percent) in the six-game slump have come from within the arc.

"I think always you need to attack the basket," said Cusick. "You can't play on your heels, so you gotta have a balance of the outside game, the inside game, and also taking it to the team, attacking the other team."

Meanwhile, Cusick said, the way for players to get themselves out of a "so-called" shooting slump (as he put it) is to keep shooting.

"I think if you ask any shooter or any player that likes to shoot the ball, they're gonna tell you that they've been in maybe a little slump before. They're gonna have a couple bad games. So, this is nothing abnormal, it's nothing that we're worried about. We're gonna get back, we're gonna play loose, play free, and all of us are gonna keep shooting the open shots that we have ‘cause they're gonna start falling."

Multiple point guards

During stretches of time in recent games, Cusick and Carlino have been out on the court at the same time. Playing two point guards at once can pose matchup problems for BYU when it comes to size, Coach Rose said, but it also has benefits.

"I'd love to have three point guards out there at the same time, when you get guys that can handle it, can pass it, can shoot it, make plays in transition," said Rose.

He added that playing Cusick and Carlino together has improved his team's ability to enter the ball into the post, and has allowed the team to spread the floor a little bit and give the post players more space inside.


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