While I have been very critical of Ben Murdock recently (particularly after the Utah game), he did a tremendous job taking care of the ball against a pressuring Aztec defense. While the Cougars did not shoot the ball well, they did take care of the ball. They only had 11 turnovers against one of the most athletic, tough defenses in the Mountain West. This is a direct reflection of Murdock, who ended the game with zero turnovers. He also contributed three assists. You can't ask for anything more than your point guard playing 33 minutes against some of the quickest guards in the conference and having zero turnovers. While Trent Plaisted, Lee Cummard and Jonathon Tavernari all struggled from the field, Murdock was there to take care of the ball and give the Cougars an opportunity to win. At one point in the first half, Murdock had a steal on a pass that he turned into a fast break layup for the Cougars. Murdock ended the game with five points, hitting a three in addition to the fast-break layup. He also contributed five rebounds from the Point Guard position.
I knew that Murdock played well against the defensive pressure, but I did not realize how well he played until I saw the box score and saw he had zero turnovers. This is terrific and he deserves a ton of credit for being a great floor leader. Not only was Murdock great taking care of the ball, but he also did a fine job defending two very quick guards in Richie Williams and D.J. Gay. Combined, these two quick guards had zero points, five turnovers, and one assist. Congrats to Murdock for a phenomenal game.
Shooting Guard: B-
Sam Burgess simply did not shoot the ball well Wednesday. He had some open looks and some shots that rattled out, but at the game's end he was 0-8 from the field. While Burgess did not score from the field, he was 4-5 from the free-throw line, including two big free throws with 2.9 seconds to go to put the Cougars up by three and force the Aztecs to take a shot from behind the arc. Burgess also had a very difficult task in that he was asked to guard one of the best players in the MWC in Lorenzo Wade. Wade can flat-out score, and he proved that Wednesday by ending the game with 21 points. While Wade did get his points, I felt that Burgess gave 110 percent effort to stay in front of Wade, like he always does against who he is guarding. Burgess gave up four inches to the 6-foot-6-inch Wade, and this was a factor, as shown with Wade's 21 points.
Jimmer Fredette, the preseason pick for Freshman of the Year, showed why he was highly touted before coming to BYU. Even as a freshman, Fredette is such a smart player. He came off the bench and contributed 11 points, shooting 3-6 from behind the arc and 4-8 from the field. On one play, he got into transition and got to the rim. It appeared as if he was hacked, but with the poor refereeing, there was no call.
The entire arena was upset and booed. I felt that Fredette was hacked and should have been given two free shots from the free-throw line. Fredette played exceptionally well and was a major contributor to the victory.
Small Forward: B-
Consistent Cummard had one of his worse games in recent remembrance Wednesday, as he got into foul trouble and had to watch some of the game from the bench. While playing 28 minutes, he was still able to contribute 12 points and six rebounds. When Cummard sat on the bench in foul trouble, he was replaced with great play from Fredette, which allowed the Cougars to stay in the game. At the end of the first half, Coach Rose drew up a play for Cummard to post up one of the smaller guards that was attempting to guard him. Cummard got the ball on the block and hit a turnaround jumper to put the Cougars within one point before going into the locker room. This was a big bucket for BYU, as it was a big momentum swing for them heading into halftime.
Lee did make a bonehead play Wednesday. He attempted to make a pass that was stolen at half court by freshman Billy White. White took the ball into transition as Cummard trailed him. Cummard fouled White as he went up to dunk the ball, giving Cummard another foul and White a three-point play. It was not like Cummard, and I'm sure he was upset about it. He has been one of the most consistent free-throw shooters in the MWC this season, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one and was lucky enough that it didn't come back and bite him. I expect Cummard to be back to normal form on Saturday against New Mexico.
Power Forward: D
Tavernari was awful on Wednesday. While he ended with 10 points, it seemed like he shot the ball every time he touched it. In warm-ups, he shot back-to-back air balls from beyond the arc, and at that point I knew that it was going to be a long night for Tavernari. As most good shooters are taught, Tavernari tried to shoot himself out of his recent slump, but the problem was that he was doing so in spite of his team.
There were numerous times when an extra pass from Tavernari would have found a wide-open teammate, but he forced up one of his shots. Because of his poor shooting, he sat the last seven minutes in favor of Chris Collinsworth. Tavernari was 4-14 from the field and a miserable 0-5 from beyond the arc. Many of those three-pointers were wide open as well. It was a frustrating game for Tavernari, and it was frustrating to watch him play. Tavernari did contribute three rebounds in his 22 minutes of play.
While Collinsworth did not shoot the ball 14 times in his 18 minutes of play, he was not much better than Tavernari. He missed his only two free-throw attempts, ended the game with zero points, and had four rebounds. This was some of the worse play we have had from both of these two power forwards. We have had nights where one or the other played poorly, but Wednesday was one of those nights where they both played poorly.
Plaisted ended the night with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and it's hard to be critical of those numbers. While he did end with 17 points, he continued his struggles from the free-throw line. He went 3-8 from the charity stripe, and that included some missing some big attempts down the stretch. He was 7-15 from the field. One play that was big for the Cougars was the charge that Plaisted took against the Aztecs' big man Ryan Amorso, forcing him to sit out the majority of the second half. One thing I have noticed about Plaisted is he is having trouble getting the ball on the block. I don't know if it is because he is not being physical enough, but when Chris Miles gets in he gets much better position. Plaisted is catching the ball so far away from the hoop that he has the opportunity to only make one move: his hook shot with his left or right hand.
Without Plaisted on Wednesday, the Cougars would have lost.
Fredette is the reason this grade is a B. Without his 11 points off the bench, the Cougars would have struggled to stay in and win this game. He came up big with three big three-pointers, and he played good defense against some tough players. Collinsworth did not play exceptionally well, but he did not hurt the Cougars.
Miles and Michael Loyd only played eight minutes apiece and were not big factors in the game.
While the Cougars pulled out a big win against one of the elite in the Mountain West Conference Wednesday, Coach Rose made some decisions that kept the Aztecs in the game. Leaving Tavernari in the game and watching him shoot anything that came his way let the Aztecs get rebound after rebound and an opportunity to stay in the game. While Rose did sit Tavernari the last seven minutes, I felt he left him in too long, and doing so is hurting the Cougars' chemistry. Rose did give Fredette plenty of minutes, and he contributed. Give Rose credit for a big win against a very good, athletic Aztec team.
Random Tidbits: The refereeing Wednesday was awful. There were numerous calls going in both directions that were never made. At the end of the game Cummard turned the ball over and tripped the Aztec player, but there was no call and the Cougars received the ball. This was a huge break for the Cougars. Also, during the last Aztec possession, one could argue that Kyle Spain was fouled on his second attempt to the hoop.
I think my favorite call of the night was when a ball was tipped near the Cougars' bench, and Tavernari was on the bench at the time and jumped up and pointed for the ball to go to the Cougars. The ref slowly blew his whistle, looked at Tavernari, and pointed in BYU's direction. It appeared as if it went off of SDSU, but it was still funny how unconfident the referee looked.
Up Next: New Mexico at the Marriott Center on Saturday at 4 PM