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BYU basketball: Cougars need a lift from healthy Elijah Bryant

Published January 9, 2017 4:54 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last Thursday's convincing 81-68 win over BYU at McKeon Pavilion apparently didn't impress the national pollsters for Saint Mary's.

The Gaels, who followed that win with a 63-52 win at San Francisco on Saturday, fell from No. 19 to No. 21 in both major polls (AP Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches) despite improving to 14-1.

On a personal note, I'm no longer the AP men's college basketball voter for the Utah region. With no notification to me whatsoever, AP apparently gave the job to someone else in the market who asked to do it.

Oh well.

Coincidentally, BYU and USF will tangle this Thursday at the Marriott Center (7 p.m., BYUtv).

I've known [new USF coach] Kyle Smith for years," BYU coach Dave Rose said Saturday after the 91-62 win over Pacific. "He's a really good coach, and he's got those guys playing really well."

The Cougars certainly played well Saturday, thanks in part to the emergence of sophomore wing/guard Elijah Bryant. The Elon transfer played his best game as a Cougar, going 5 of 7 from the field, 5 of 6 from the free-throw line, and scoring a BYU career-high 17 points in 20 minutes. He was the talented player coaches have been promising since he left Elon after the 2014-15 season.

"Yeah, I think my confidence is definitely coming back and the guys have been building my confidence up, so it has definitely helped a lot to see the ball go in the hoop," Bryant said. "My knee is 100 percent [healthy]. I am ready to go."

It remains to be seen what role Bryant will take on now that he's healthy, but Rose said his versatility will enable the Cougars to do a lot of things with their rotations.

"Well, he is a versatile guard," Rose said. "He can play the one, he can play the two. He can play the three. We can actually use him defensively [at the four] if we want to play a four-guard offense and spread the floor a little bit. And so those are all options that are open to us. We still don't know exactly what will be the best for him, as far as fitting with this group. But it will be a priority to find, I think, because he will be a big piece of the success of this group. Hopefully he can continue to get healthy and get into better shape. But tonight was pretty impressive."

Thanks to Bryant's 17 and some nice games by Steven Beo and Colby Leifson, BYU's bench scored 30 points a week after netting just 5 against LMU. My guess is that Rose keeps bringing Bryant off the bench to provide that offensive punch, but we will see.

Bryant said he started his career at Elon by coming off the bench, then became a starter five or six games in due to some injuries. He's comfortable doing either, he said.

"Whatever coach wants me to play: 1, 5, I will. Whatever it is to get the win. So, I will do whatever," he said. "Bench, start, whatever it takes to get the win."

Rose said the Cougars worked a lot on four-guard offensive sets in the summer, but kind of had to scrap those plans when Bryant started the season on the sidelines with a knee injury. Well, they are back — partly because they are thin in the post with the injury to Kyle Davis.

"He can score off the dribble. He is a good 3-point shooter. He is a good free-throw shooter. He is strong around the rim as far as finishing. We have missed him, but I think in the process a couple other guys have developed pretty well for us, so hopefully it will make us better," Rose said. "There are some adjustments that are going on right now with our group, and bringing him back should make us stronger. And if he plays like this, obviously it will make us a lot stronger."

TJ Haws is another versatile player on the roster, but seems to play better the more he has the ball in his hands as the point guard, as opposed to playing the two (shooting guard) while LJ Rose directs the offense. Haws said Saturday that Bryant's return has helped take some of the scoring pressure off him and Nick Emery.

"Eli is a huge part of this team," Haws said. "We are super excited to have him back. We are excited that he is feeling good. He showed that he can play extremely well tonight and we need that in this conference. We have big games ahead of us and we are going to need him every game."






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