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‘We’re chasing something really big’: What’s next for BYU after smashing No. 12 Oregon?

Cougars have opened the season with three wins over teams that played in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Now national college basketball pundits are taking note.

Oregon forward Eric Williams Jr., right, shoots over BYU forward Caleb Lohner, during game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.
Oregon forward Eric Williams Jr., right, shoots over BYU forward Caleb Lohner, during game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. The Cougars trounced the Ducks, 81-49 in Portland, Oregon.
Craig Mitchelldyer, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — With an 81-49 throttling of No. 12 Oregon Tuesday night at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon, BYU made it through its early-season schedule gauntlet unscathed with a 3-0 record.

While the Cougars’ stunningly easy victory — they led from beginning to end — enhanced their national profile this season, coach Mark Pope knows there’s much more to accomplish.

“We’re chasing something really big. We want to do some things,” he said. “We’re trying to be great. This is a positive step. But we have to find a way to get better tomorrow.”

BYU, which is unranked, has opened the season with three wins over teams that all played in last year’s NCAA Tournament, including Cleveland State and San Diego State. Of course, the beatdown of the Ducks was other level.

And the nation has taken notice.

According to ESPN, BYU is the first unranked team to beat a top-15 team away from home by 30-plus points since 1993. The 32-point win is the largest margin of victory against a ranked opponent in the AP poll era, dating back to 1948.

By Wednesday morning, college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman put the Cougars at No. 8 in his national rankings, up from No. 17.

“A win tonight over a brand name opponent like Oregon would likely put Mark Pope’s team into next week’s AP Top 25 and make BYU a full fledged national story early in the season,” CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein wrote before the game.

So how do the Cougars, who host Central Methodist on Saturday, build on this moment and this momentum?

“We definitely have to stress the defense that we played (Tuesday) because it was such a big factor for us in the first half and throughout the second half,” said guard Alex Barcello, who scored a game-high 25 points against Oregon. “Being locked in mentally to our scout, knowing the way we prepared for such a big game, we don’t change anything because a team’s ranked.

“We go into every game preparing the same way. We can use this to show that, hey, guys were bought in, they were worried about the right things. This is how we need to win going forward, whether we’re playing a ranked team or an unranked team, whoever it may be, we need to come in with the same mentality that we did (Tuesday).”

Pope said his players aren’t satisfied; they’re just getting started.

“They’re just hungry to get better. We feel like we have a chance to become a really good team. We want to get better. I think the guys were really excited about the challenge they had in front of them (Tuesday). … The guys were super successful. They’re hungry to do it again.”

BYU relied on its depth against Oregon and executed its game plan, for which Pope credited assistant coach Nick Robinson for his role in putting it together. The Cougars had four players score in double figures, including freshman Fousseyni Traore, who had a career-high 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and grabbed a game-high six rebounds.

BYU’s senior guards led the way. Barcello made his first eight shots and finished 9 of 11 from the floor, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range (as a team, the Cougars were 9 of 22). Te’Jon Lucas had 12 points with two 3-pointers and three assists.

“I’ve got a backcourt that’s ridiculous right now,” Pope said. “I’ve got these two guys like yin and yang.”

Oregon coach Dana Altman was impressed with BYU’s guardline.

“Alex did a great job. Lucas really played well. We knew Lucas was a good penetrator. Alex has shot it really well from 3. We knew they were experienced, good guards and they played really well,” he said. “We gave Alex a couple of 3s and he’s not just going to miss those shots. Lucas is really a good driver going to his right and he finished.

“We did a poor job defensively. We let them play to their strengths. And they took away what we had been doing well. I don’t know if they took it away or if we took it away ourselves. But we sure didn’t get it done.”

Pope hopes that people around the country will realize just how good Barcello is.

“Somebody put out that Alex Barcello is one of the most underappreciated guys in the country, or a darkhorse All-American. I don’t understand that. Who in the country has done what he’s done in the first three games?” Pope said. “In the first game, he had 24 points in six shots. Against San Diego State, he made every big play. And he rolls into No. 12 Oregon and is 9 of 11 from the field. The guy’s incredible. He’s a star’s star. And he does it right.

“It all blends into everything we do. The young man is incredible. He’s a really special young man. And that’s not even the best thing he does. The best thing he does is make our locker room right. He’s spectacular.”

Lucas also drew praise from Pope.

“Te’Jon was really special tonight,” the coach said. “He gets trapped and most guys freak out. He’s like, pivot, pivot, 40-foot laser to Seneca Knight for a layup. He’s just got that poise and experience of a veteran guy.”

Not only is BYU 3-0, but it also has beaten three teams that could be NCAA Tournament teams in March.

But who would have guessed that as part of the Cougars’ progressively difficult early-season three-game schedule, that their most dominant win would be against No. 12 Oregon?

“We’re always working on becoming believers. We want to become, as a team, believers in what we do,” Pope said. “You think about this three-game stretch and that’s probably the most rewarding thing for us as a team. I think we’ve taken a big step to being believers.”

Along the way, BYU is making believers out of a lot of people around the country.