Cougars Open MWC Play With Big Win Over CSU

Behind big games from Jonathon Tavernari and Trent Plaisted, the Cougars mowed over the Rams from Colorado State on Saturday by a score of 92-73. The Cougars extended their home court winning streak to 40 games in front of 13,135 faithful, including a loud student section that included many Cougar football players that came onto the court at halftime.

The struggling 6-10 Rams were without their 7-foot big man Stuart Creason, who sat out the game with an injury. High scorers for the night were Jonathan Tavernari and Trent Plaisted, both of whom scored 25 points. The Rams were led by junior guard Marcus Walker, who ended the game with 24. Grades are in.

Point Guard: A

After being very critical recently of the way that Ben Murdock has played, and even suggesting playing Jimmer Fredette at point guard to get more use out of the position, I must admit that Murdock played very well on Saturday against Colorado State. He ended the game with six points, going 1-2 from beyond the arc. He also was 3-4 from the free-throw line. The stat line that is most important from Murdock is that he had six assists and only one turnover. Those are the type of numbers Murdock was producing earlier in the season before the Michigan State game, when he faltered, and had not since returned to. Ben was the ‘floor general' Saturday and gave us hope that he still has the potential to be the point guard BYU needs to win the MWC and to get into and win a game in the NCAA tournament. The Cougars as a team only had 11 turnovers, which they have had in the first half in other outings this season. This showed that Murdock controlled the tempo and did not turn the ball over. This was the best game we've seen from Murdock since the North Carolina game.

Shooting Guard: B

The Cougars only got 12 points Saturday between Sam Burgess and Fredette, who were 4-12 from the field combined. It must be difficult for Fredette to get all those minutes and shot opportunities against Wake Forest this week and then to come in Saturday and play 15 minutes and take five shots. I have always believed that inconsistent minutes are going to produce inconsistent results, and that was the case with Fredette against CSU. He ended with three points on one made three-pointer. Burgess on the other hand had nine points and was 3-7 from the field, but did provide good defense, as he had two steals and one block. I still think it would be nice to have Burgess and Fredette in at the same time, but Coach Rose must believe that will be a mismatch defensively because he does not seem to want to go to that lineup.

Small Forward: A-

Consistent is a great word to describe Lee Cummard. While he did not have his career high in points scored, he did end the game with 10 points, nine boards, and seven assists. Cummard did not score a ton of points Saturday because he simply did not have to. He was getting it done on the defensive side of the floor and was creating opportunities for other players. In the first two minutes he had a tremendous pass to Chris Collinsworth that went for a layup and an opportunity for a three-point play, but Collinsworth missed the free throw. Cummard only took eight shots and made four of them, and shot 2-3 from beyond the arc. The number that is so impressive to me is that fact that Cummard had 7 assists Saturday. That is more assists than Murdock, the point guard, had, and Murdock performed well Saturday. Cummard did have two turnovers, but his assist/turnover ratio was still very good. I believe that Cummard is going to be the next Cougar with a triple-double (it hasn't happened since 1988).

Power Forward: A

Tavernari did not start Saturday, although he did run through the huddle in place of Collinsworth when the starters were named. Either way, Tavernari ended the game with 25 points and six rebounds in his 27 minutes of play. Those are Manu Ginobli-like numbers off the bench. Tavernari shot the bell exceptionally well, as it appeared that all of his shots, including his off-balance turn-around jumpers, went in. He shot 5-9 from beyond the arc and was 9-17 overall. Some of those crazy shots that we have been accustomed to see from Tavernari went down Saturday. This was the reason he ended the game with 25 points. It appears from the box score and from the numbers that Tavernari put up against CSU that he is back on track, but that may not be the case. He took some crazy, rushed shots that went down. Hopefully this will build him some confidence so that he can consistently hit these shots, but as realists, let's hope it doesn't give him have a false sense of confidence and cause him to throw up bad shots. I want to make myself clear: Tavernari played fabulous Saturday and was a big part of the reason that the Cougars blew out the Rams. This was the best play we've seen from him since the first half of the North Carolina game, and he did it from all areas of the floor, not just shooting well from beyond the arc. The Cougars could be very difficult to beat if Tavernari gets hot and consistent.

Collinsworth also contributed Saturday, as he pulled down a game-high nine boards (tied with Cummard). He did struggle from the free-throw line early, as he missed his first four attempts, but ended up making his last three, going 3-7 from the line on the day. Collinsworth started the game Saturday but only played for a minute and a half before he was replaced by Tavernari. In only 14 minutes of play, Collinsworth pulled down nine rebounds, which is very impressive. I like the idea of starting Collinsworth and bringing Tavernari off the bench, and I believe that Coach Rose sees it as an opportunity to strengthen bench play.

Post: A

Though one must take into account the fact that the Rams did not have Creason, their 7-footer, manning the middle Saturday, Plaisted was nevertheless unstoppable. He ended the game with 25 points and five rebounds in only 21 minutes of play. He was whistled for two fouls early, one that was bogus and another that was an over-the-back call. Plaisted was simply too much for CSU to handle, as he did what he wanted against a developing 7-foot Ronnie Aguilar. While Plaisted scored 25 points in only 21 minutes, the highlight from the post position was the way that Chris Miles played. He held his own against a good player in Aguilar, and pulled down six boards, three of them being offensive boards, in 18 minutes of play. While he ended with only five points, Miles was far better than these numbers show. He even got his hands on a ball from another player, creating a jump ball. If we can get consistent play from Miles during the rest of the season like we did Saturday, the Cougars are going to be in a good spot come tourney time.

Bench: B+

With his Ginobli-like game off the bench, Tavernari raised this grade immensely. Miles also contributed some very good minutes in place of Plaisted, and we did not even have to see a turnover or an ugly behind-the-back pass from Vuk Ivanovic. Fredette could have played better, but he by no means played poorly, and Michael Loyd did not cause any problems in his 10 minutes of play. It was a good viewing from the Cougars' bench on Saturday.

Coach: A

Time and time again we have seen the back-up big men for BYU haunt us, but on Saturday Miles played well and Coach Rose deserves credit for that. He could've listened to my thoughts from last game and only played Collinsworth and Tavernari at the 4 and 5 and play smaller, but he had the confidence to go with Miles after he has struggled this season, and Miles performed. He also got his team ready for conference play after a tough loss on the road to Wake Forest. Whatever he said in the locker room at halftime gave the Cougars some motivation as well, as they came out and scored the first 12 points in the second half, essentially putting the game out of reach at that point. In a game that the Cougars won by 19, they only had 11 turnovers. This shows that the Cougars did not get sloppy even when the game was out of reach for the Rams and that they played hard until the end. With the exception of tremendous shooting from CSU's Walker, the Cougars locked down the Rams on defense. Coach Rose deserves a lot of credit for this win. Let's see if this will carry over to Tuesday in Las Vegas, a very difficult place to play on the road.

Up Next: Cougars @ Las Vegas Tuesday, January 15 on the MTN 8 p.m. MST

Interesting Tidbits: Collinsworth returned to the starting lineup Saturday for Jonathon Tavernari. As the starting lineup was announced for the Cougars, Collinsworth was announced to start but Tavernari ran through the huddle in his warm-ups. I originally thought that the announcer had been given poor information or that the coaches decided to go with Tavernari instead, but Collinsworth ended up starting the game. It was a weird situation. Also, early in the first half Loyd and Nick Martineau entered the game at the same time and Loyd was positioned at the 2-guard. I didn't really understand the reason for this other than the possibility that Coach Rose would try to get those guys some meaningful minutes. They were on the floor as the same time as Miles, Fredette and Tavernari...all of which are underclassmen. Coach Rose must've read my last article with the thought of placing Collinsworth on the block as the 5 to give Plaisted a breather. With both Miles and Plaisted in foul trouble, Collinsworth played the 5 with Tavernari at the 4. This could've occurred because Ivanovic was not dressed, but I like the move. I talked to Kevin Kruger on Saturday night at the Utah Flash game and he told me that BYU versus UNLV has turned into a fun rivalry in basketball. He said that he has a lot of respect for the Cougars and UNLV is going to have to play well to beat them, as the Rebels are undersized.

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