BYU’s Gavin Baxter has coming out party against Pepperdine, readies for USF
What is it with BYU freshmen and perfect games?
A month ago, Cougar freshman quarterback Zac Wilson was 18 for 18 passing in the Potato Bowl win against Western Michigan. On Thursday, 6-foot-9 BYU freshman forward Gavin Baxter turned in a flawless performance in the Cougars’ 87-76 victory at Pepperdine.
Baxter – who came into the game averaging less than 10 minutes per game – played a season-high 23 minutes and had a perfect shooting night (5 for 5 on field goals, 3 for 3 on free throws) with six rebounds and three blocks to go along with a career-high in points (13).
The former Timpview High standout returned from his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Washington D.C. last spring and has slowly rounded into form. He was a real difference-maker as the Cougars earned their second straight win in Malibu.
“If you ask Gav, he’ll tell you the game is slowing down for him,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “He doesn’t have to think so much anymore. His positioning is becoming more natural for him, especially on the defensive end. Offensively he’s still blessed to the point where no one really knows what his game is because they haven’t seen a lot of it.”
Pepperdine saw plenty of what Baxter can do. In the first half, the freshman turned in a 3-point play by rebounding through contact. In the second half, Baxter made a nice left-handed drive to beat the shot clock and threw down two alley-oop passes from TJ Haws for dunks.
“I can’t say enough good things about what Gav did tonight,” Haws said. “He’s so long and so active. He got some rebounds that were huge for us. As a point guard, to have someone like that to throw the ball up, then he just goes up and gets it, that’s fun for me.”
Baxter also rebounded well and provided a rim protector for the Cougars. Rose said Baxter has been working through the process of getting his legs back and has been dominant in practice recently.
“You’re seeing all that in front of your eyes right now with a talented guy that I think can really step up and help our team,” Rose said.
Baxter said he’s been focusing on the defensive end in an effort to get on the court.
“In practice, we’ve put more emphasis on it (defense),” he said. “We talk about making the next effort, the extra effort on defense. It’s made a difference, not only in practice but I think it’s translated over the games as well.”
I am Iron Man
Haws played all but 59 seconds of the 40-minute win at Pepperdine and turned in a career-high in points (34) while making 18 of 22 shots from the foul line. It was most free throws attempted and made by a Cougar player since Jimmer Fredette was 23 of 24 against TCU in the 2010 Mountain West Conference Tournament.
It was obvious the Waves game plan was to put pressure on Haws and try to get him off his game. The junior did have six turnovers but also turned in a career-tying eight assists and added seven rebounds.
Haws scored 16 of his 34 points in the final eight minutes of the game, including 11 of 13 from the foul line.
“On the offensive end I felt like we were spacing the floor well to take advantage of them being aggressive way past the 3-point line,” Haws said. “We were good at getting past that and getting the ball in the hoop.”
Playing from ahead
BYU led by as many as 11 points in the first half and by nine at halftime. Pepperdine came out on a 15-5 run to start the second half and took a 50-49 lead with 16 minutes left to play.
“Teams are going to go on runs and you have to weather the storm,” Haws said. “You have to keep fighting because guys will make shots. We called time out and gathered ourselves. It was good for us to take that run, take that hit and keep going.”
The Waves led just once more at 58-56 before the Cougars got back on top at 64-62 and stayed there the rest of the game.
In fact, BYU led for 31:19 of the 40 minutes against Pepperdine.
A numbers game
Other key stats from the win include field goal percentage, where the Cougars shot 56 percent on the road to Pepperdine’s 38 percent. In a game with 53 fouls and 68 free throws, the two teams shot the exact same number of charity tosses (34) with BYU making 26 and the Waves 22. The Cougars outscored the home team 26-9 in bench points and 42-28 in the paint.
BYU has had a remarkable run of success against San Francisco and at War Memorial Gym. The Cougars are 13-1 in conference play against the Dons and have won all seven games played in San Francisco. The last Dons win the series came in Provo in 2013.
San Francisco (3-1 WCC, 15-3 overall) needed a free throw from Charles Minlend with three seconds remaining to hold off Pacific 53-52 on Thursday in Stockton, but the Dons have had their best season under third-year coach Kyle Smith. USF defeated two Pac-12 teams in the preseason (Cal and Stanford) and played No. 5 Gonzaga really well at home before falling 96-83 last week.
“The formula to try to win the conference championships has been you try to win all our home games and split on the road,” Rose said. “In this league that’s not good enough. You’re chasing a team (Gonzaga) that very seldom loses, period. We got a win on the first game of this road swing and hopefully we can do that on Saturday. We’ll have to battle all night long. USF is a team playing with a ton of confidence. It’ll be a battle.”
Sophomore guard Charles Minlend leads the Dons in scoring (15.2 points per game) but its senior point guard Frankie Ferrari (13.4 points, 5.4 assists per game) that drives the offense. USF is a deep team that leads the WCC in 3-point field goal defense (.287) and is second in scoring defense (62.6) and field goal defense (.401).