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‘We can’t take a night off’: Cougars know tough tests await them at Diamond Head Classic

BYU takes on South Florida Wednesday in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu at the Stan Sheriff Center.

BYU’s Alex Barcello shoots between pair of Creighton players during game in Sioux Falls, S.D., Dec. 11, 2021.
BYU’s Alex Barcello shoots between pair of Creighton players during a game at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Barcello had the hot hand in the Cougars’ victory over Weber State last Saturday and BYU coach Mark Pope hopes team can stay hot when it visits Hawaii this week for the Dimond Head Classic.
Matt Gade, for the Deseret News

For Christmas, the BYU basketball team is leaving behind the freezing temperatures and snow of Utah for the balmy climes of Hawaii.

The Cougars, fresh of a red-hot shooting performance in an 89-71 win at Weber State last Saturday that saw them hit 16 of 26 3-pointers, take on South Florida Wednesday (7:30 p.m. MST, ESPNU) in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu at the Stan Sheriff Center.

“We’re happy for some warmer weather, for sure. I’m a desert guy. I want to see some warmer weather,” said Arizona native and BYU guard Alex Barcello, who poured in a game-high 23 points, including five 3-pointers, against WSU. “But there’s going to be some tough teams that we’re going to play so we’ve got to come ready.

“We can’t take a night off, as we’ve seen. We’ve lost two games. But we’ve got to be as prepared as we can for every game. We’ve got to come with the mindset that we need to be the aggressor. We did a good job of that (against Weber State).”

Coach Mark Pope is grateful that his team recorded a victory before traveling to Hawaii. The Cougars (9-2) bounced back after a loss to Creighton to beat the Wildcats.

BYU, which checks in at No. 25 in the NET rankings, has not lost back-to-back regular season games under Pope.

“It’s going to be a lot better than it would be if we were on that plane after an ‘L’. That’s a long flight. Win, lose or draw, I’m super blessed to be able to coach these guys,” Pope said of the trip to Hawaii. “This is a special group. They’re great human beings.

“They’re really trying to do this for each other and fight for each other. It’s going to be a great trip if we win three games. But the plane trip is going to be great because we won this game (at Weber State). That’s pretty good.”

The Cougars’ first opponent in the Diamond Head Classic, South Florida (4-5), happens to be the final team Pope faced as the head coach at Utah Valley University in 2019. USF beat the Wolverines 66-57 in the College Basketball Invitational.

The Bulls are led by guard Caleb Murphy, who averages 13 points and 3.8 assists per game. Guard Javon Greene averages 9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds. Center Russel Tchewa, a 7-foot, 280-pound junior from Cameroon, averages 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.

USF, ranked No. 268 in the NET rankings, is coming off a 66-55 loss to Florida last Saturday. The Bulls have also lost to Boston College and Auburn.

The Diamond Head Classic features an eight-team field, with each team guaranteed three games. The other six teams, with NET rankings, are No. 221 Hawaii, No. 97 Vanderbilt, No. 128 Stanford, No. 19 Wyoming, No. 126 Liberty and No. 164 Northern Iowa.

The winner of BYU-USF meets the winner of Hawaii-Vanderbilt Thursday in the semifinals. The losers of the two games will also square off Thursday. The championship game will be held on Saturday, Christmas Day, at 7:30 p.m., MST. No games will be played on Christmas Eve.

“It’s a great tournament. I’m looking forward to the Diamond Head,” Barcello said. “It’s a fun place to be while you’re playing basketball. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s exciting.”