For No. 12 BYU, Wednesday night’s 72-65 overtime loss at Utah Valley University was painful.

But even more painful, and more impactful, was the loss of forward Gavin Baxter to another season-ending injury, which is a major blow to the Cougars (6-1). 

“Going forward, it’s a huge deal for us,” said coach Mark Pope.

Just like that, the complexion of the season has changed for BYU.

Baxter had played in only nine games over the previous two seasons due to injuries and surgeries. He suffered a major shoulder injury prior to the 2019-20 season before returning for the final handful of games and then he suffered a knee injury in the second game last season.  

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Entering the week, Baxter was averaging 8.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting 65% from the floor in six games. He was a big reason why the Cougars boasted an undefeated record and had catapulted to No. 12 in the Associated Press Top 25 entering Wednesday’s game at UVU.

After BYU beat Oregon, Pope reflected on Baxter’s resilience and hard work that resulted in him returning to the floor. 

“I’m super proud of him. It’s been hard. … What’s special about coaching these guys is, we all know Gav’s story but like seeing him run into the locker room five minutes before our exhibition game this year, by himself, almost in tears and knowing what he’s fought through the last two years, it’s super special,” Pope said. “You talk about a great young man that’s got a ton of courage and has worked so hard when a lot of people would have quit.

“He’s a special human being. That’s how I feel about him. It’s really special to see him progress. He’s got a ton of basketball in him. He’s a good player.”

The Cougars, who are already without center Richard Harward due to a medical condition, will have to reinvent themselves moving forward. 

“We’re going to have to make some adjustments with the new roster we have,” Pope said. “We’re going to have to change some things. And we will. We’ll get better a new way. We’re going to have to get better a new way right now. And we will.”

Without Baxter, BYU played freshmen Fousseyni Traore and Atiki Ally Atiki saw considerable minutes. But they’re still learning. 

“These young guys, our young fives, are going to grow really fast,” Pope said. “They’ll do a good job. They’ll get better.”

One of Pope’s favorite pet phrases involves turning “frustration into fight.” With the loss to UVU, and the loss of Baxter, his team has an opportunity to respond to adversity. 

Pope didn’t make his players available for questions from reporters after the game. 

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“The biggest thing for us right now, what I’m feeling urgent about, is trying to get them healthy,” he said. “We had a bunch of guys on the court that haven’t practiced the last couple of days. That’s the biggest thing. That’s why I rushed them out of here. I need to get them home and showered and rested and get fluids in them. We need to find a way to practice either (Thursday) or Friday because we’re going to play an incredibly difficult road trip.”

The Cougars visit Missouri State on Saturday.

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“We have new ways we have to approach it,” Pope said. “Everyone’s going to have moments where you’re really challenged. It’s actually exciting because you get to see who you are.”

Earlier this week, Pope offered an update on Harward. 

“We just don’t know about Richard. We know he’s got more energy. He’s back to giving his hype speeches before the games but it takes a toll on him,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been told that it’s going to be a wait-and-see. I don’t think we’ll have him back sooner rather than later. We’re still super hopeful. We need him. He’s a big difference. We’re missing a lot with him right now.”

Moving forward, the Cougars will be missing a lot with Baxter sidelined too.

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