After being swept, BYU needs to ‘re-tool’ itself with San Francisco, No. 2 Gonzaga up next
There’s no way to sugar-coat this — it was a miserable, forgettable weekend for the Cougars
STOCKTON, California — It took BYU coach Mark Pope a long time to emerge from the locker room at the Spanos Center Saturday night.
Behind closed doors, Pope addressed his team. Then he talked to a reporter as he made his way back to the court for his postgame radio show, trying to explain what happened to his team over the previous 48 hours.
There’s no way to sugar-coat this — it was a miserable, forgettable weekend for BYU basketball.
First, there was a dramatic, one-point setback at Santa Clara on Thursday. Then came an embarrassing, inexplicable 76-73 defeat at hapless Pacific Saturday. That was a Quad 4 loss, marking Pope’s worst as the Cougars’ coach. And it was the first time BYU has lost back-to-back regular-season games in three seasons under Pope.
With the win, Pacific earned its first West Coast Conference victory of the season. The Tigers entered the night ranked No. 303 in the NCAA’s NET rankings and mired in a seven-game losing streak.
Suddenly, BYU, which was only one spot outside the Associated Press Top 25 poll last Monday, and has been projected as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, is in danger of playing its way out of the Big Dance.
The Cougars dropped six spots, from No. 28 to No. 34, in the NCAA’s NET rankings Sunday.
BYU (17-6, 5-3) sits in fourth place in the WCC standings. And things only get tougher from here.
The Cougars host San Francisco (No. 38 in the NET) Thursday and No. 2 Gonzaga (No. 1 in the NET) Saturday.
Pope blamed himself for the pair of losses over the weekend. And he indicated that changes are coming this week.
“We’ve had two really subpar defensive games for ourselves the last two nights. I’ve done a poor job preparing our team for these games. We’ve done a poor job having an edge to guard. We have to guard,” Pope said.
“It’s really important. We’ve gotten to the place that we’ve been at because we’ve guarded and rebounded at an elite level. We certainly didn’t do that on this trip. Every team is going to go through stretches where they’ve got to re-tool themselves. We’ve got to re-tool ourselves right now.”
Last weekend’s performance magnified issues that BYU has had this season, namely inconsistency. The Cougars had 18 turnovers against Santa Clara and 13 against Pacific. BYU shot 42% from the field and 33% from the 3-point line Saturday.
As Pope said, his team has hung its hat on its defense and rebounding all season long. But BYU wasn’t good enough in those areas last weekend.
San Francisco (17-5, 4-3) at BYU (17-6, 5-3)
Thursday, 8 p.m. MST
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
The Cougars had a four-point lead and the ball with less than one minute remaining against Santa Clara before collapsing.
Saturday, BYU had to mount a furious rally to slice a 13-point deficit with a little more than two minutes remaining to two points in the final minute. But the Cougars couldn’t get over the hump.
The loss to the Tigers is an eyesore on the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament resume and it could prove costly on Selection Sunday. There’s little margin for error from here on out.
This isn’t an ideal time for re-tooling, what with the Dons and the Zags paying visits to the Marriott Center. But Pope and his staff need to figure out how to fix their team’s issues.
“San Francisco will be the hardest game we’ll play all year, just like this Pacific game was the hardest game. It’s always the same. It never changes,” Pope said. “That’s how the season goes — the next game is the hardest game we’ve ever played.
“We might be learning that a little bit, maybe. But I have a lot of faith in these guys. These guys respond and they’ll ring the bell. I know I’ll get better. We’ll move on. It’s what we do. This game asks you how you’re going to respond and it’s really asking us that right now.”
Players weren’t made available for interviews after Saturday’s loss.
Pope described them as “super disappointed. These guys work hard. They’re great young men. They’re super committed. What they’re trying to do is really hard. They took a couple of hits. This game is so beautiful about ripping you to shreds and kind of exposing your whole world and then seeing how you respond. Certainly, we’re in a place now where we’re really challenged to see who we are and what we’re made of.”