Carlino and the Cougars coming along

As great as it is to have players that can go off for 42 points (Tyler Haws) or 33 (Brandon Davies), it's important to have a team full of players that can come in and take away some of the burden by making plays. BYU hasn't had that much this year, leading to trouble when Haws and/or Davies have struggled. But lately some others have been stepping up, most notably Matt Carlino.

Because he plays the all-important point guard position, and because of his high ceiling, no Cougar outside of the "big two" (Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies) is as important to BYU's success as Matt Carlino. When playing well, he can do things that most cannot.

Unfortunately for BYU, he's struggled quite a bit at times this season. Things were particularly bad in the three-game stretch against Florida State, Notre Dame and UTSA, when he shot a combined 2-of-22 from the field for a mere four points.

Because of his struggles, Coach Rose took Carlino out of the starting lineup for four games. The sophomore guard said it wasn't demoralizing, however.

"I didn't really take it as punishment," said Carlino. "It was more just trying to get me going. So, it didn't really affect me much."

After shooting 3-of-22 from outside the arc in the first eight games of the season, Carlino then came alive against Utah. With both Haws and Davies struggling and the team seemingly unable to score, Carlino sank five three-pointers en route to a game-high 19 points, and the Cougars came back from a double-digit deficit to win.

Still, the consistency wasn't quite there, and he failed to score in double digits in the following five games. However, last week against Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, Carlino may very well have put together his best back-to-back performances as a Cougar.

In those two games, he had a combined 43 points, nine assists, nine steals and 12 rebounds, and he scored 20-plus points in consecutive games for the first time in his career. His ability to make plays was especially important against San Francisco, with the Cougars getting down by double digits before winning a close game. His season-high 22 points and career-high five steals against the Dons were crucial.

When asked if it's safe to say that he's feeling more comfortable out on court, Carlino replied, "Yeah, I just feel like some stuff's coming together. I mean, I worked hard in the offseason. The beginning of the season was a little shaky, but now that it's conference, we're getting it rolling."

As much as people focus on Carlino's scoring and shooting, his defense was impressive last week, as evidenced by his nine total steals.

He attributed his strong defense to "just defensive principles … I was maybe being a little bit more aggressive defensively, and [it was also due to] a lot of team defense, good rotations and stuff like that. So, just getting better as a team defensively probably accounted for that."

Because he is a scoring point guard and Jimmer Fredette's successor, Carlino is often compared – whether fair or not – to the former National Player of the Year and all-time leading BYU scorer. But when Carlino redshirted at BYU in 2010-11, he also got to observe and learn from the MWC Defensive Player of the Year in Jackson Emery, and has shown a knack for anticipating passing lanes much like the all-time steals leader for BYU.

"I think [Emery would] probably tell you the same thing, it's something that you're just kind of born with – anticipation," Carlino said. "It's just natural basketball instincts and stuff like that. So yeah, Jackson was great at just jumping passing lanes and stuff like that, so I probably picked up some stuff from Jackson."

Meanwhile, both of last week's games were alike in that they were team wins, with a number of guys stepping up and contributing. Brock Zylstra, a nonfactor for the past month or so, scored 16 huge points against San Francisco to keep the Cougars in the game when the Dons were threatening to run away with it. Josh Sharp has had some flashy highlight dunks in recent weeks, but also had 22 total rebounds last week, a number of which were crucial ones down the stretch at San Francisco. Craig Cusick hit a big three late in the game against the Dons.

Add to that Raul Delgado getting more integrated into the team as of late, and it appears the Cougars are becoming more balanced and not entirely dependent on Haws and Davies to always carry the team to victory.

"If we're gonna win conference, it's gonna have to be a team effort," said Carlino. "We're not gonna have to have one or two guys in a game; it's gonna have to be three, four, five, six, seven – whatever it takes. A lot of times one or two guys is not gonna win a game."

The Cougars will indeed need contributions from a variety of players from here on out. Gonzaga is ranked in the top 10 nationally, while both Saint Mary's and a vastly improved Santa Clara look like formidable opponents. Carlino is aware of the strength of the league, as he watches BYU's WCC foes during his free time.

"Yeah, I watch as much as I can of all the teams. It's a strong conference this year. I think a lot of teams got better, so it's gonna be fun."

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