Heading into the final weekend of January, BYU has won seven of its last eight games, checks in at No. 24 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, sits just one spot outside the latest Associated Press poll, and is projected by ESPN as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Cougars on the air
BYU (17-4, 5-1)
at Santa Clara (11-7, 1-2)
Thursday, 9 p.m. MST
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
Now the Cougars are facing a big weekend on the road.
It starts Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPNU) when BYU visits Santa Clara. The Cougars travel to Pacific on Saturday.
Next week, BYU hosts San Francisco and No. 2 Gonzaga.
Coach Mark Pope is happy with what his team has accomplished and he’d like to see it break into the AP poll again.
“This will be another opportunity this week,” Pope said. “We’ve got two really tough games on the road. It will be an opportunity to prove if we belong there or if we don’t.”
For the Cougars (17-4, 5-1), it’s also a chance to get off to their best start ever in the West Coast Conference. BYU has never opened with a 6-1 record in WCC play in the decade since joining the league.
But it won’t be easy — Santa Clara (12-7, 2-2) is expected to pose a strong challenge to the Cougars.
The Broncos, ranked No. 85 in the NET, recorded wins over Stanford and TCU earlier this season.
After losing to Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in league play, Santa Clara is coming off a 78-74 overtime win against San Diego on Monday.
One thing that concerns Pope is the Broncos’ size. Jalen Williams, a 6-foot-6 freshman guard from Gilbert, Arizona, ranks second in the conference in scoring (18.3 points per game). The freshman is shooting 51% from the field, 40% from 3-point range and 87% from the line.
“They’re big, man. This (Williams) is huge. He’s a point-guard, off-guard. He brings so much size to the equation,” Pope said. “It makes it complicated in a bunch of places. … It shows itself in a ton of different ways. Coach (Herb) Sendek is a really smart coach. They use it to their advantage, their length. It’s a problem.”
“That Oregon game should be a Quad 0. They’re so good. They say it’s a neutral (site game) but it was in Portland. You walk around Portland and there’s ducks everywhere. You see these ducks on TV and they look so cute. You see them in person and they’re terrifying. … You think about playing that great team with all these ducks running around, it’s scary. We should get more credit for that.” — BYU coach Mark Pope
The Broncos also have 6-9 Josip Vrankic (14.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and 6-7 Keshawn Justice (14.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg). Justice is shooting 45% from 3-point territory.
“Justice shoots the living daylights out of the ball,” Pope said.
This marks BYU’s first trip to Santa Clara since the 2017-18 season.
Meanwhile, over the last week or so, the Cougars’ metrics have improved thanks in part to the performance of previous opponents.
Oregon, which BYU beat 81-49 in November, beat nationally ranked UCLA and USC back-to-back earlier this month before falling at home Tuesday to Colorado.
“That Oregon game should be a Quad 0. They’re so good. They say it’s a neutral (site game) but it was in Portland,” Pope said. “You walk around Portland and there’s ducks everywhere. You see these ducks on TV and they look so cute. You see them in person and they’re terrifying. … You think about playing that great team with all these ducks running around, it’s scary. We should get more credit for that.”
Missouri State, which the Cougars beat in December, upset nationally ranked Loyola Chicago last weekend. And BYU’s victory over Saint Mary’s earlier this month is now a Quad 1 win.
The Cougars are 3-2 in Quad 1 games.
“I’m super proud of where we are,” Pope said. “I mean, I wish we were one spot up (in the AP). But we’ve got to earn it and we’ve got a chance to earn it.”