OGDEN — As the BYU basketball team continues to evolve while dealing with the loss of key players in the post, making a flurry of 3-pointers can compensate.
Saturday night at the Dee Events Center, the Cougars buried 16 of 26 shots from behind the arc, including 5 of 6 from Alex Barcello, who finished with a game-high 23 points.
BYU’s 16 3-pointers were a season-high and just two shy of a single-game school record. Those 3s lifted the Cougars to a double-digit first-half lead, and those 3s kept falling in the second half as they cruised past the Weber State Wildcats 89-71.
“I would like to win without having to make shots,” said coach Mark Pope, “but it is nice when you make them.”
Earlier this season, BYU (9-2) won mostly with defense and rebounding, but with Gavin Baxter suffering a season-ending knee injury and Richard Harward announcing earlier this week that he won’t play at all this season, consistently hitting 3s is a huge weapon.
Spencer Johnson drilled 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and three other Cougars scorched the nets as well — Trevin Knell (3 of 6 from 3), Te’Jon Lucas (2 of 2) and Seneca Knight (2 of 3).
“We’ve always believed that we can make shots. We’re a shot-making team. It’s how the team is built,” Pope said. “Every team and every program is going to go through a little spell where shots don’t fall, but the good ones win anyway.
“We did that for the most part (earlier this season), but it does make the game a little bit easier, doesn’t it? Especially with us being a little bit smaller now, it’s probably not in our wheelhouse to be quite as dominant on the glass, so it’s helpful to make some shots.”
More than anything, Pope loved how his players made extra passes and spread the ball around.
“I’m proud of how hard our guys are working to earn each other shots,” he said. “That’s the way good teams play.”
After Barcello watched his team miss a lot of 3-pointers earlier this season, Saturday’s performance was gratifying.
“It was really nice,” Barcello said. “That’s what coach Pope and the staff preaches to us, ‘You’re going to miss five, you’re going to make five.’ We just keep telling our guys, ‘Shoot the ball with confidence. It’s all confidence.’
“Eventually, the ball’s going to fall for us, and thankfully it did tonight.”
During one stretch early in the game, BYU hit four straight 3-pointers — two by Lucas, one by Knell and one by Gideon George. Later in the half, Knell buried a pair of 3s, then Knight made two of his own.
BYU led by as many as 12 in the first half.
Still, early in the second half, the Wildcats (9-3) made a run at BYU, hitting a couple of 3-pointers of their own, including an old-fashioned 3-point play by Koby McEwen to tie the game at 44.
But Barcello quickly answered with a 3-pointer with just under 17 minutes remaining, kick-starting a decisive 13-2 run.
After Johnson’s corner 3 with 13:19 remaining, the Cougars led 57-46.
Through the first 17 minutes of the game, Barcello was quiet. He didn’t score his first basket until the 2:38 mark of the first half, when he knocked down his first 3 of the night.
His driving layup just before the halftime buzzer gave BYU a 41-33 advantage at intermission. Then he started the second half with another 3.
“What a gift it is to have him on your team, as a teammate, as a coach and as a fan,” Pope said of Barcello. “Every team we play, 89% of the stuff they do is about trying to control Alex Barcello. … (Opposing teams take) every kind of step to try and keep the ball out of his hands, and when he has the ball in his hands, he’s double-teamed all the time.
“He’s just veteran enough and savvy enough and his team is functioning well enough that he just finds really hard ways to get baskets. He put on a show again tonight. He does that a lot for us.”
Said Barcello: “My teammates have a lot of trust in me and the coaching staff has a lot of trust in me. The guys found me for some open shots, and thankfully I was able to sink them. I was just trying to let the game come to me.”
Both Pope and Barcello liked the way the team performed after falling to Creighton a week earlier in South Dakota. BYU knew Saturday’s contest would be a challenge against coach Randy Rahe’s Weber State squad.
“I’m really proud of our guys. Our schedule has been really hard. … This is a really explosive team that started the season 9-0,” Pope said of the Wildcats.
“They cause all kinds of problems, and Randy’s a great coach. For our guys to come in here and come out with a solid win is super impressive.”
Barcello said his team’s resolve showed throughout the week in practice leading up to Saturday’s game.
“We responded really well. It was a tough test this week not playing a game until Saturday coming off a loss,” he said. “A lot of preparation we had to put into each day.
“The guys came to work at practice every day with the right mindset. We needed to work on a lot of things coming off that loss. I’m thankful we got a ‘W.’”
Freshman center Atiki Ally Atiki got his first career start against Weber State, replacing Knight. But Knight, who came off the bench to play 23 minutes, hit 6 of 10 shots and scored 12 of his season-high 14 points in the first half.
BYU’s bench scored 36 points against the Wildcats.
“It’s super important for us. Spencer Johnson, he’s always like the second-best player in the game so we don’t talk about him enough,” Pope said. “The way he’s shooting the ball with faith right now is just awesome.
“To see his confidence coming as a result of the faith that he’s playing with, he’s been really special. He’s always such an incredibly solid defensive player. He was terrific tonight, especially in the second half.”
As a team, BYU shot the ball with plenty of faith Saturday night — and, as it has learned, faith precedes the makes.
The Cougars take on South Florida Wednesday at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. BYU will play three games in the tournament, which concludes on Christmas Day.
TIP-INS: Weber State’s Dillon Jones recorded a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. … Knell finished with 11 points and had five rebounds while Caleb Lohner contributed nine points and eight rebounds. … Lucas had a team-high six assists. … The Cougars outrebounded WSU 38-27 and outscored the Wildcats in the paint 32-24.