Lineup change, bench play help BYU grab an important victory

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BYU entered Thursday night’s game against No. 25 Gonzaga having won five of its last six games, and while the Cougars have multiple players capable of putting points on the board junior guard Tyler Haws has been the star. Averaging more than 23 points per game on the season, Haws averaged 25.8 points per game during that stretch and surpassed the 30-point mark in two of those games.

With this being the case it goes without saying that Gonzaga would look to neutralize Haws, and with him scoring 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting the Bulldogs did a solid job of limiting him offensively. On nights like these the other pieces need to step up, and Dave Rose’s players did just that in the 73-65 victory.

As a result BYU moved to 6-1 in its last seven games while also taking an important step towards a return to the NCAA tournament after missing out a season ago.

Rose made an important change to the starting lineup, moving freshman forward Eric Mika to the bench and giving guard Anson Winder the start in the his place. And the move worked out for both players, with Winder scoring 17 points and Mika adding 13 to go along with eight rebounds. And with Matt Carlino, who scored seven of BYU’s final nine points, scoring 15 on the evening BYU’s reserves outscored Gonzaga’s 34-21.

Mika entered Thursday’s game on the heels of underwhelming performances in BYU’s 60-58 win at Saint Mary’s last Saturday, as he scored five points and failed to grab a single rebound in 17 foul-plagued minutes. Faced with their most important game of the season to date, as BYU entered 0-4 against ranked teams, Rose took a chance and moved his freshman big man to the bench.

There were two objectives to the move: to use Winder in defending Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos and to keep Mika out of foul trouble. BYU was successful on both fronts, with Pangos scoring 13 points on 3-for-9 shooting and Mika playing 24 solid minutes.

Keeping Mika on the bench at the start of the game was Rose’s way of preventing the freshman from getting into early foul trouble.

“I didn’t really mind it. I kind of liked it,” Mika said of coming off the bench. “It was nice to see how the game was going, how the flow was for a minute or two then be able to go. The big guys on the other team were a little bit tired because of the pace of the game. I think it helped my start. It definitely gave me an advantage … I didn’t realize I only played 24 minutes. It felt like I played 40 minutes.”

BYU has two games remaining before the WCC tournament, at home against a Portland team that beat them in triple overtime last month on Saturday followed by a game at San Diego a week later. With their current play and the fact that early-season wins over Stanford (fellow bubble team) and Texas are increasing in value, BYU looks to be inching closer to a spot in the field of 68.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.