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BYU basketball: Can the Cougars get back on track after a tough week?

How will the Cougars respond Saturday when they visit Missouri State?

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Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) drives for a loose ball past Utah Valley Wolverines guard Justin Harmon (24) at Utah Valley University in Orem on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

When painstakingly piecing together the nonconference schedule for his BYU basketball team, coach Mark Pope wanted to take on big challenges and bolster the squad’s NCAA Tournament resume.

Right now, the No. 12 Cougars are experiencing a stretch of their schedule in which, starting last Saturday at Utah, they’ll play only one of nine games at home, including four true road games and four neutral-site contests. 

Last Wednesday at Utah Valley, BYU suffered its first loss of the season with a 72-65 overtime setback.

Even more concerning was forward Gavin Baxter going down with a season-ending knee injury in that game. 

So how will the Cougars respond Saturday (2 p.m., MST, CBS Sports Network) when they visit Missouri State? 

“This is why we play this schedule. We’re going to get punched in the mouth more,” Pope said after Wednesday’s loss. “The whole idea is how good can we be when we’re done with the season?

“So we have a lot to learn and a lot to grow and some younger guys that need to grow really fast, and we will.” 

Like BYU, Missouri State is coming off a road overtime loss. The Bears fell 78-74 at Illinois State Wednesday night. 

The Cougars haven’t lost back-to-back games in the regular season under Pope.

So Saturday’s game, which is a “blackout” game in Springfield, Missouri, is an opportunity for BYU to get back to winning, and it’s an opportunity for a potential Quad 1 victory.

The Cougars are No. 26 in Kenpom.com and Missouri State checks in at No. 73, four spots ahead of Utah. 

Pope said the series with the Bears is a home-and-home, with Missouri State coming to Provo next season. 

“They’ll be here next year. We wanted the game there this year because it makes it a Quad 1,” the coach explained. “We’re so desperate to find Quad 1 games. The way we can do it is we can take a top-70 team and go on the road.

“I don’t know why more schools don’t approach it that way, but it’s important to us. We’ve got to get as many of those games under our belt as we can. Hopefully Oregon stays a Quad 1. We need them to play well. They will. They’re a good team. San Diego State should be a Quad 1 and Utah should be a Quad 1 when all is said and done. We have three under our belt and we need to keep going and get them.”

For BYU to get a win at Missouri State, it will need to shoot much better than it did against UVU.

The Cougars looked out of sync and stagnant on offense and shot just 31% from the field.

Overall, BYU, which led the nation in 3-point shooting a couple of seasons ago, is currently ranked No. 284 in the country (46 of 154, 29.8%). 

“We can earn ourselves better shots, more in-rhythm shots,” Pope said of his team’s offense. “We haven’t been a good ball movement team.

“We run a lot of stuff through our bigs at the top, and we spent a lot of time playing two rookie bigs tonight. They’ll be really good for us. Ton of room for improvement.”

These are games that Pope scheduled to test his team, and that’s exactly what’s happening. He wants to see what his players are made of and he has a big-picture perspective. 

 “We’re not going to roll through this gauntlet without being exposed a couple of times,” Pope said. “It’s good for us.”

No. 12 BYU (6-1) at Missouri State (4-3) 

Saturday, 2 p.m. MST

JQH Arena

Springfield, Missouri

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM