Shooting Woes and 'Whoas'

Coach Rose's teams could certainly be labeled as second-half teams. Should BYU win its final two games, he will never have lost more than one conference game in the second half of any MWC regular season. That second-half success is being replicated by BYU's shooting lately, which is necessary given some first-half struggles.

For a team that recently led the nation in field goal percentage and is currently in second place in that category (coincidentally tied with early-season opponents Wake Forest and Utah State), BYU has really struggled to score at times.

In the first half of the past four games, the Cougars have only shot a combined 38-of-128 from the field (29.6 percent) and have averaged a mere 24 points in those halves. By contrast, they have shot a combined 64-of-114 in the second halves (56.1 percent) and have averaged 45.7 points in those halves.

"I think the thing that I'm most impressed with our players is that we're able to stay in the game, because we haven't played as well offensively," said Rose. "A lot of it has to do with the opponent's team, but you have to give our defense credit too because we're going into halftime with a situation that's manageable if we can just start to make some adjustments."

Jackson Emery, like Rose, credits the Cougars' defense with keeping them in games despite ice-cold shooting, and said he thinks they are playing their best defense of the season.

"I think that's why we've won the past two games," Emery said. "Being down at San Diego State, we had to make some crucial runs, and it starts on defense. If you can't score at the beginning you have to at least hold them so they don't build huge leads, and fortunately we did that against Utah. They didn't build a huge lead after we didn't shoot very well, and then [in] the second half when we started shooting really well our defense really stopped them from getting into a rhythm."

But why has the team struggled so much to score early on in games lately?

"You know, if we could put our finger on it, we'd fix it," said Emery. "I think it's just lack of focus. I think we come out maybe a little lackadaisical. We're not playing with urgency … ‘cause it's the first half, the scores is tied when you start, you know, and there's not a lot to fight for at the beginning. So, I think we gotta change our attitudes and really think that we need to build a lead to beat these teams."

Meanwhile, Rose said that one of the reasons the league is so good is because it has some really good defensive teams, and that those teams have given BYU some fits. He indicated that it is also easier to play defense in the first half when players are fresher and more energized.

Rose said he likes how his players are relying upon each other when their shots aren't falling instead of trying to do it all themselves, but did say they need to do certain things better if they are to reverse this recent trend of poor first halves.

"There are some things we need to do a better job of, and that is that we need to be able to get to the free-throw line more in those situations," he said. "I mean, we had a bad drought at San Diego. We're very fortunate to be able to recover from it. But … the end of the first half is a situation where we just have to be able to find a way to get ourselves some points, and [the way] to do that is you gotta get to the free-throw line and get some confidence …"

So that covers the shooting woes, but there have also been some shooting 'whoas.'

BYU has three of the top six scorers in the league in Lee Cummard, Jonathan Tavernari and Jimmer Fredette. Opposing teams recognize this and scheme to take these players out of the game, particularly the upperclassmen starters Cummard and Tavernari. Thus, while scoring has been difficult for those players at times given the amount of attention they receive, other players have become the beneficiaries of some open looks.

Fredette is one such player, and has been on a scoring tear lately. He averaged 26.5 points in the past two games, leading the Cougars back from halftime deficits both times.

Rose said that one of Fredette's real strengths "is that he likes the ball in his hands and he's good at reading the defense and what's available to him, and he can split defenders. But he operates really well when he has a little bit of space, and I think the space is being created by the fact that you have to guard Lee, you have to be right up on J.T., you can't let Jackson have a clean look at the basket … and you gotta really pay attention to Chris when he's deep in the post. So I think that any point guard would probably tell you that they benefit from having good offensive players [around them]."

Of course, as Fredette continues to score like he has been doing, he has made himself a target just as Cummard and Tavernari have.

"He is getting more attention [from other teams], but there's a way you can play Jimmer and make him get the ball out of his hands to give it to another player, and if teams start to do that, then other players need to step up," said Rose.

One player that has stepped up is Jackson Emery. Emery has yet to lead the Cougars in scoring in any game this season, but has nevertheless been a spark for BYU. He shot 7-of-9 (including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc) for a career-high 19 points in the recent victory over New Mexico.

"You know, when we played New Mexico they really keyed off [Cummard, Tavernari and Fredette], and it opened doors for me where I could drive, I could hit some shots, and all that does is make the other guys better ‘cause they're gonna have to guard me and Chris [Miles] as well."

Emery also hit timely three-pointers in the recent games against SDSU and Utah. The most improbable - and impressive - of those shots was the back-breaker he banked in from deep against the Aztecs late in the game with seconds left in the shot clock.

"You know, [I'm] just fortunately the one at San Diego State went in," Emery said with a laugh, "and the one against Utah, it wasn't a shot out of my rhythm. It's a shot that I usually take, and you know, it just happened be when it was a big time for us, a big run. So, the key is just to keep shooting when you have open shots, when you're in rhythm. And you know, your team counts on you to hit those shots, especially in those crucial times."

For Emery, it's not a matter of putting up huge numbers all the time, but getting numbers when his team needs him to.

"At times I'm gonna look to score but other times, you know, we have some great scorers on the team. You just gotta understand the time and place, and if you're open, hit the shot. The coaches don't discourage me at all from taking any shots."

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