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Why Utah State’s rebounding sensation Justin Bean poses a challenge for BYU

On Wednesday, BYU will face, once again, one of the top individual rebounders in the nation in the 6-foot-7 senior

Utah State forward Justin Bean jumps to grab a rebound next to San Jose State forward Chase Courtney
Utah State forward Justin Bean (34) grabs a rebound next to San Jose State forward Chase Courtney (40) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in Logan, Utah.
Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via Associated Press

Coming off a difficult week that included BYU losing at Utah Valley University in overtime and seeing Gavin Baxter go down with a season-ending injury — which led to dropping 12 spots in The Associated Press poll — and then bouncing back with a gritty win at Missouri State, the Cougars are happy to be back home.

But that doesn’t mean things will get any easier for No. 24 BYU as it hosts in-state rival Utah State Wednesday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv).

One of the subplots of this season has been rebounding and the way the Cougars have been able to crash the boards successfully against some of the best rebounding teams in the country. Last week, BYU had to go with smaller lineups due to Baxter’s injury and Gideon George’s illness.

On Wednesday, BYU will face, once again, one of the top individual rebounders in the nation in 6-foot-7 senior Justin Bean.

Bean is tied with UVU’s Fardaws Aimaq with the most double-doubles in the country with seven. Aimaq had 24 points and 22 rebounds against the Cougars last week. Bean is No. 2 in the country in rebounding, averaging 12.2 per game.

Facing a player like Bean has BYU coach Mark Pope leery.

“A week ago, I would have said, ‘Bring it.’ Now, I’m like, ‘We’re probably not going to get any rebounds. We have to win a different way now.’ That’s just where we are as a team,” he said. “He’s an unbelievable player, he’s a great rebounder. He punishes people. It’s going to be a massive challenge for us.”

Bean also leads the Aggies (6-2) in scoring, averaging 22.1 points per game and he also averages a team-high 1.9 steals per game. He’s shooting 66% from the floor and 56% from 3-point range.

“This kid has terrified us from the first day we matched up with him. His first year, he was averaging a ridiculous amount of offensive rebounds. He’s always been a great cutter,” Pope said of Bean. “He’s just getting more shots right now and he’s making them. He’s gotten better and better every single year.”

For BYU’s young post players, freshmen Fousseyni Traore and Atiki Ally Atiki, it will be an opportunity to learn some lessons against a skilled veteran.

“It’s going to be really hard because you have one the most savvy, highest motor, most complicated (players to defend) in the country,” Pope said. “Atiki is not the most seasoned player in the country. That’s going to be a real challenge. But it’s going to be a great education. … Last year, Bean grabbed three rebounds in the first 25 seconds of the game. We had spent the whole few days prepping Caleb Lohner. Then 62 seconds in, (Bean) has got three offensive rebounds. We were like, ‘Caleb, this is what we actually meant.’”

George practiced Tuesday and is improving, Pope said. Having George back in the lineup is crucial for the Cougars.

“It means a lot. He has such an impact on the defensive end of the ball. He’s really gifted offensively, being able to get in the lane and the posts moves that he has and shooting from the perimeter,” said guard Alex Barcello. “He brings so much on defense — having an eye for the ball when it goes up, crashing the boards and being able to guard one of their best offensive players. It’s huge for us to have him coming back. We’re happy.”

Barcello respects Bean’s rebounding ability, but he’s confident in his team on the boards.

“He’s a great player but we have a lot of relentless rebounders, too,” he said. “It’s going to be a test but we’ll be giving it our all.”

USU also has point guard Rylan Jones, a transfer from Utah. He’s averaging a team-high 5.4 assists per game.

“Rylan, I still have PTSD from his freshman year. He’s a great player. He’s a heady player. He drives you crazy,” Pope said. “I think he’s leading the world in charges. He tried to take charges in ways that you’ve never seen. He finds ways to be a force in areas where you wouldn’t think he’d be great. He can shoot it, he’s an elite-level passer and his IQ is off the charts. He’s a terrific player. He’s a concern.”

“He’s a solid guard. He’s really scrappy,” Barcello said of Jones. “They have great players and so do we. We’re ready to win a game.”

Ryan Odom is in his first year as the coach of the Aggies. Odom is the son of former Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. Pope spent time as an assistant with the Demon Deacons.

“When I was at Wake Forest after Dave had retired, I got to know (Ryan) really well. I have so much respect for that family tree,” Pope said. “I think he’s a big-time coach. Utah State has performed better than anybody possibly could have expected. That’s a credit to him.”

Utah State is coming off a tough 60-58 home loss to Saint Mary’s last week.

BYU and USU have had close games the past two seasons. The Cougars beat the Aggies at Vivint Arena two years ago as Barcello nailed the game-winning 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining. Last season, BYU edged USU 67-64 in Logan.

“It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a war,” Barcello said of Wednesday’s showdown. “It’s a great opportunity for us to continue to grow closer as a unit. The loss we had last week, then bouncing back and getting a win, brought our locker room closer together.”

Utah State (6-2) at No. 24 BYU (7-1)

Wednesday, 7 p.m. MST

Marriott Center


Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM