BYU Cougars: Basketball, volleyball hanging their hat on defense

(Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
(Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images) /

Last weekend in both BYU women’s volleyball and BYU basketball, the Cougars defended their way to victory.

For the BYU Cougars, defense was the buzzword of the weekend.

First, in rolled the women’s volleyball team. As they swept the Pac12’s Oregon to advance to a sixth-straight Sweet 16 on Saturday, it wasn’t the attack that won the day.

Yes, it was certainly there, particularly from Veronica Jones-Perry. She pummeled the Ducks to the tune of 27 kills and a .535 hitting percentage.

But if you ask me, the true hero was libero Mary Lake. The digs she made were jaw dropping, gasp inducing. As Oregon’s pin hitters bombed straight toward the court floor, but just couldn’t find it, I wonder if they started to dread seeing that one streak of navy among the white.

Lake led the team with 20 digs, a second consecutive match with 20+. Nobody on either team was even close to  that. And in volleyball, when you can score off an open look at the net, just when can you score?

Not often enough, clearly. The defensive-minded Cougars took the match in three.

USU can’t land the knockout punch

The Cougar Cagers seem to be specializing in tearing down home courts this young season. Princeton, UVU, and now Utah State have all fallen victim. That is no easy thing in college basketball.

And what was the reason the BYU Cougars have been able to perpetrate this home-wrecking violence on their basketball foes? The culprit was—you betcha—defense.

To start the game, the Aggies were firing with confidence behind their sophomore guard Koby McEwen. Even though he was just returning from injury, it looked like he might single-handedly knock the Cougars out of the game by nailing three early 3’s. That was when BYU couldn’t buy an outside bucket, going 0 of 10 in the first half.

As a result, there was a real chance for USU to take the game away.

Except it seemed like no one else was able to find the hoop. At least, not consistently enough to pull away from the Cougars, anyway. A defender was always there, in their face, swatting at the ball, working over the screens.

Incidentally, there were a total of 49 fouls called in the game.

Between that and hitting only 2-of-9 from the free throw line, far from putting BYU away, the Aggies let the Cougars take the lead 28 to 24 at the half.

And that did not portend well for Utah State.

As the game went on, the Aggies got tight, turned the ball over, got even worse from the stripe, and Elijah Bryant took the lid off from three point land. BYU built enough lead that when USU went on their inevitable run (because that’s what college basketball does) that the Cougars had plenty of time to reign things in again.

And since the Cougars are nails from the free throw line, once they had the lead late, the best a desperate Aggie team could do was hope for an earthquake.

The Spectrum is still standing, and so are the BYU Cougars—mostly on the back of  suffocating, will-sapping defense.