BYU's offensive struggles last season were most severe during the last six games of the regular season. Like clockwork, the Cougars struggled from the field in the first half of each of those games. In those first halves, they shot a combined 54-of-182, only hitting a paltry 29.7 percent of their shots. Their shooting figures in the second halves of those six games were dramatically better, but poor first halves put more pressure on the Cougars to perform well in the second halves.
The best shooting percentage the Cougars were able to muster in the first half of any one of those games was a meager 33.3 percent. By contrast, the Cougars have shot better than 33.3 percent in 16 of their last 17 halves of basketball this season. Long, cold shooting stretches have been less frequent this season. Greg Wrubell stated on his radio pregame show prior to Tuesday's matchup against TCU that only two teams have gone on a 10-0 run against BYU this season, and both of those teams ended up losing.
BYU is shooting 49.3 percent from the field this year, compared to 48.7 percent last year. The team shooting percentage has improved despite the fact that Jimmer Fredette, Jackson Emery and Jonathan Tavernari are all individually shooting a lower percentage this year than they did last year.
However, Coach Rose indicated that this year's team is better offensively, and attributed the relative lack of poor shooting stretches this season to a number of factors.
"I really believe that this is a little bit more diverse team, a little bit more athletic, I think we get shots off of offensive rebounds, we're a better offensive rebounding team, and then I think the guys have got a little more experience," Rose said, comparing last season to this season. "They know how important it is to consistently score throughout a game, especially on the road … and when you get in those situations sometimes guys just have to figure out a way to get to the free throw line or just make a play."
If there is a guy that can figure out a way to get to the line or just make a play, it's Jimmer Fredette. He's done that time and again this season, helping carry the team when it needs it the most. He has also been scoring at will lately since overcoming his bout with mono.
Rose said that it is important for a team to be really diverse and have a lot of good offensive players on the floor, but that there is also a place – if not a need – for a go-to star player.
"I think what's important [is] that you have a guy that your team understands [and that] everyone has confidence in him, especially late in games. I think we did that with [Keena Young], and then we did that with Trent [Plaisted] and Lee [Cummard], and now obviously Jimmer's kind of taken that role."
But while Young, Plaisted and Cummard were all great players, none of them scored at the rate Fredette currently is. Fredette is currently averaging 21.5 points per game this season, more than Young (17.4), Plaisted (15.6) and Cummard (16.8) averaged in their final seasons at BYU. Also, Fredette has shown a greater desire to have the ball in his hands late in the game than any other Cougar in recent memory.
Another factor setting this year's Cougar squad apart is overall balance.
"Well, I think if you look at most of our teams that we've had [there are] … two, three guys that have scored in double figures, sometimes four or right close to it," said Rose. "This year we've got four guys that are right close to scoring double figures."
Last year, BYU's top four scorers (Cummard, Fredette, Tavernari and Emery) averaged a combined 56.5 points per game, whereas this year's top four (Fredette, Emery, Haws and Tavernari) average only 54.8. However, BYU is averaging 82.4 points per game this season, five more points than last year.
That's because of BYU's depth. The rest of BYU's roster is contributing more offensively than it did last year. This season, after the top four scorers, BYU's next five scorers are averaging a combined 25.6 points per game (compared to 18.5 points per game last year). Those additional points were particularly needed when the mono-stricken Fredette was either unable to play or physically weak and ineffective.
If BYU can avoid a late-season shooting swoon like the one it went through last year, the team will be in good shape to win the conference outright, enter the NCAA Tournament on a roll and finally get out of the first round.