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No. 18 BYU trying to stay focused as it hosts road warriors Texas Southern

The Tigers (0-5) may look like a pushover according to their record. But they play an arduous preseason schedule.

BYU forward Gideon George (5) sprints past Central Methodist guard Tim Cameron, right, and Isaiah May during an NCAA game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

Since BYU smashed then-No. 12 Oregon by 32 points last week, the Cougars have received quite a bit of national attention.

And deservedly so.

BYU (4-0) jumped from unranked to No. 18 in The Associated Press poll released Monday and coach Mark Pope was named ESPN’s Coach of the Week.

And while the Cougars are looking forward to joining the Big 12 in 2023, the league they’re in right now, the West Coast Conference, is making noise, too.

No. 1 Gonzaga, BYU, Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara and San Francisco had posted a combined 25-0 record going into Tuesday night’s games.

There’s talk that the WCC might be good enough to get four NCAA Tournament bids.

“This league is tough, man. It’s really good,” Pope said. “It’s exciting. It’s a great conference. We’ve been really blessed to be a part of it. It’s going to be a dogfight all year long. It makes it really fun because there are a lot of Quad 1 games in conference now, which isn’t always the case. That’s going to help all of us in terms of chasing NCAA seedings and bids.”

“Our conference is great. A lot of great teams, a lot of great coaches. A lot of talented players,” said guard Alex Barcello. “It’s fun to be part of a league that’s doing so well right now. … It’s impressive and it’s motivating for us as our team moves throughout the course of our nonconference season, knowing what we have ahead of us. But right now, we’re just focusing on our next game.”

For BYU, the next game is Texas Southern on Wednesday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv).

The Tigers (0-5) may look like a pushover according to their record. But they play an arduous preseason schedule. Like every year, Texas Southern is playing a string of road games in the preseason, including contests at Oregon, Saint Mary’s and North Carolina State. They will play 13 road games before their first home game.

“They have to go on the road and play five ridiculously difficult games to start the season, and they’ve been in every single one,” Pope said.

Texas State is the Cougars’ fourth opponent this season that played in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

Pope isn’t concerned that his team will be overlooking the Tigers.

“I don’t think my guys are looking past them because Texas Southern is really good and really dangerous. This is going to be a big-time challenge for us ... This Texas Southern is really good. Ranking teams on wins and losses right now is a little bit insane. This team is 0-5. They’ve led in every single game but the Oregon game,” he said. “That includes leading in the second half at North Carolina State. They led at Saint Mary’s. Like Cleveland State, (Texas Southern is) a championship team. They won their conference and conference tournament and then won a game in the NCAA Tournament last year, and they have essentially their whole crew back. They are a championship-pedigree team.”

After hosting Texas Southern, the Cougars travel to Salt Lake City Saturday to face archrival Utah at the Huntsman Center.

Barcello acknowledged that staying focused is “extremely hard to do, especially with some of the attention we’ve been getting nationally. We don’t want to lose sight of what got us here. And what got us here is focusing on the details, coming in every day and being present. What can we get better on that day? That’s what’s been helping us to stay in the moment and focused on our next game. It’s really hard to do as a team collectively. These guys have been doing it so well right now. We’re going to try to continue to do that as the season goes on.”

Earning a huge win over Oregon, having a perfect record, being ranked and seeing more big challenges on the horizon — these are exciting times for BYU.

But things can change quickly if the Cougars don’t show up prepared for every game.

“It means a lot but we’re only four games in,” Barcello said about the national ranking. “There’s a lot that can happen the rest of the season. We’re extremely happy about where we’re at. We’re just looking to keep winning and keep getting better because there’s a lot of growth that we need to do and there’s a lot of potential. We’re just excited for what’s to come.”