College basketball • Switch in backcourt making a difference.
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Hoffman Estates, Ill. • The decision by BYU basketball coach Dave Rose two games ago to relieve 6-foot-6 Brock Zylstra of his duties at point guard and give Craig Cusick and Anson Winder chances to show what they can do has been a wild success.
In a combined 81 minutes of play in wins over Longwood University and Prairie View A&M, the duo has committed just two turnovers both by Winder, who has played 11 more minutes. Compare that to Zylstra's 10 turnovers in 63 combined minutes against Utah State and BYU-Hawaii.
Cusick has started the last two games and been solid if unspectacular, while Winder has been a pleasant surprise for Rose while coming off the bench.
But the real test for both guys begins Friday far away from the Marriott Center. The Cougars' schedule takes a major step up beginning with Friday's game against 3-2 Nevada in the Chicago Invitational Challenge at the Sears Centre Arena (4 p.m. MST, BYUtv). Saturday, the Cougars (3-1) will play either No. 11 Wisconsin (4-0) or 3-1 Bradley, with winners playing winners and losers playing losers.
"This weekend, we will get into some teams that will be a really big challenge for us," Rose acknowledged.
And for his point guard plan.
The Wolfpack are similar to Utah State, a team that gave BYU's backcourt fits with its pressure defense. And Wisconsin, if it comes to that, has allowed an average of just 34 points per game.
"Part of the process is that we are trying to find players that can come in and kind of play a role. The most important thing for us, on our guard line, is that you have to be a pretty good shooter, you have to be pretty quick, you gotta be fast," Rose said. "Anson is all those things. But when you kind of look at the depth chart on the wing, he was down a couple of guys. So about three weeks ago we started playing him at point guard. He played point in high school. We just wanted to see what we could get from him there, and so far it has been pretty good."
Cusick, a 6-foot-2 junior from Orem High, a walk-on, will likely get the start again. He has yet to commit a turnover in 67 minutes of action this season. Cusick played some point at Salt Lake Community College after a mission and a redshirt year at Utah.
"He has practiced with us for a couple years now, and I think that probably the biggest factor for him is the fact that he doesn't turn the ball over, and he can get us in the offense," Rose said. "He's a really good shooter. He is still trying to learn our defensive system. But he has played [a lot] without a turnover. And that kind of gets you the opportunity, and he has taken advantage of that opportunity."
Both guys are better on-the-ball defenders than Zylstra, who has moved over to the shooting guard spot and flourished, scoring six points without a turnover against Longwood and eight points with two turnovers against Prairie View.
"I am used to playing point guard," said Cusick, who is learning to be a pass-first point guard after being a shoot-first player most of his life. "I am not saying I am not going to turn the ball over, because I will, but I am just there to keep the offense running, keep control of the ball, and be aggressive at the same time, which is what coach wants."
BYU point guards in the past two games against Longwood and Prairie View A&M:
Player Mins FG-A 3FG-A FT-A Reb Pts Ast TO
Craig Cusick 35 2-5 2-5 0-0 5 6 3 0
Anson Winder 46 5-10 4-8 5-8 4 19 9 2
BYU vs. Nevada (Chicago Invitational Challenge)
P At the Sears Centre Arena, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Tipoff • Friday, 4 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 3-1, Nevada 3-2
Series history • BYU leads, 12-5
Last meeting • BYU, 110-104 (Dec. 22, 2009)
About the Cougars • They defeated Longwood 92-60 and Prairie View A&M 90-51 in the first two rounds of the Chicago Invitational Challenge. … Stephen Rogers had a career-high 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting against the Panthers. … They have made 27 3-pointers in their past two games. … Charles Abouo has grabbed 23 rebounds in his past two games.
About the Wolfpack • Malik Story scored 28 points in their 80-78 win over Longwood on Tuesday night. Longwood led 64-63 with 4:57 left after a 20-4 run … Deonte Burton added 14 points and Dario Hunt had 13. … They have won three straight games after starting the season with two losses.