The West Coast Conference schedule-makers weren’t exactly kind to BYU.
But the Cougars have survived a gauntlet that featured three grueling games — at home against Saint Mary’s, at No. 2 Gonzaga, and at San Francisco.
BYU emerged from that stretch with a 2-1 record after Saturday’s dramatic 71-69 win at War Memorial Gym against the Dons after rallying from a 10-point second-half deficit.
“It’s a Quad 1 win against a great San Francisco team,” said coach Mark Pope. “This backcourt is really special, (Jamaree) Bouyea and (Khalil) Shabazz. They’ve been together for three years now. It’s always a challenge to play here. It’s a huge win. We’re super excited about it.”
While Bouyea and Shabazz scored 19 and 14 points, respectively, the Cougars held the pair to 3 of 14 shooting from 3-point range. Bouyea missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
There were some questions about how BYU might respond Saturday after being run out of the gym by Gonzaga, 110-84.
“We were just trying to move past it. There are a lot of things that we need to learn after that loss,” said guard Alex Barcello, who scored a team-high 18 points and snatched seven rebounds against USF. “Being able to turn around within 48 hours and play another really good team with 15 wins, we did an incredible job at that.”
Yes, BYU still has not lost back-to-back regular season games in three years under Pope.
And Saturday’s win might have been the most impressive bounce-back win of them all, considering the Cougars were coming off that setback to the Zags and considering that USF was 11-0 at home prior to Saturday.
Barcello said that defeat in Spokane actually helped his team going into the San Francisco game.
“I think we learned a lot having these two games back-to-back just because Gonzaga, the way they play in transition, they’re really talented,” he said. “This team (USF) also pushes the ball in transition. I thought it prepared us well to handle their transition. We did a good job on their shooters. We started a little slow rebounding the ball. When they got that 10-point lead (in the second half), we were just chipping away — stop, rebound; stop rebound. It was extremely incredible what we were doing.”
This week, the Cougars (15-4, 3-1) return home to take on San Diego Thursday and Portland on Saturday.
Cougars on the air
San Diego (10-7, 3-1)
at BYU (15-4, 3-1)
Thursday, 7 p.m. MST
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
Barcello is happy with the way his team has played overall since starting conference play, particularly the games against the Gaels, Zags, and Dons.
“It was a great test of our physicality and our fight and our willingness to stay together. That’s huge. When you’re battling adversity, to come off a loss with just a 48-hour turnaround and to be able to regroup as a whole, knowing everybody comes out of that game frustrated, knowing that we lost and that we could have put more out there,” he said.
“There was stuff left on the table. But the way that we were able to regroup after that, it was a huge test to us. It’s going to be a huge test going forward because we’re trying to win out the rest of the league. We might battle another adversity. There might come another loss. But the way we’re going to handle it, it was a good test over this four-game stretch for us.”
Pope liked the resilience of his team against the three best foes in the WCC.
“They’re good teams. This league is really good. We say the same things over and over again. But this is why you do two-a-days. This is why you spend all the time in the summer,” he said. “That’s why we log the hours that we do, so we can survive the biggest challenges you face.
“The hardest game we’re going to have all season is whoever we play on Thursday. So far this season, this has been the hardest stretch of three games we’ve played. Probably by the numbers, it’s going to be the hardest stretch of three games of the season.”
Pope pointed out that BYU is the only team in the WCC that will have to play Gonzaga and USF in consecutive games on the road.
“We’re playing the two best teams in this league back-to-back, on the road, with a flight,” he said. “There’s nobody else in the league that will do that all season. We’re the only one scheduled that way. You think about all that adversity and it’s pretty freakin’ awesome.”
With that crucial stretch behind them, the Cougars know they can’t let up now.
“There were a lot of good things that came out of the Gonzaga game,” Barcello said. “There’s a lot of things that we need to improve on. I think the sky’s the limit for this team. We’ve got to get back and get to work.”