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How BYU is dealing with rash of postponements in the WCC

For now — knock on wood — the Cougars have two league games scheduled this week in Provo

BYU coach Mark Pope calls out a play against Creighton at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D., Dec. 11, 2021.
BYU head coach Mark Pope calls out a play during a game against Creighton at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.
Matt Gade, for the Deseret News

The West Coast Conference was supposed to tip off league games last weekend but due to COVID-19, all those contests were postponed.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, Saint Mary’s postponed its Thursday game at Santa Clara due to COVID-19 issues within the Gaels’ program.

As of Tuesday evening, the first, and only, WCC intraconference game scheduled for Thursday is BYU’s game against Pacific at the Marriott Center.

The Cougars are scheduled to host Saint Mary’s Saturday but will the Gaels be available to play by then?

San Francisco, meanwhile, is hosting a game at Salt Lake Community College against Loyola Chicago because the Dons had an opening left on their nonconference schedule.

Welcome to the 2021-22 college basketball season — a sequel to last year’s slew of postponements and cancellations.

“It’s one of the challenges we’re going to face this year. By the end of the week, Gonzaga and LMU might be four games behind on the schedule,” said BYU coach Mark Pope. “We’ve just got to piece it together as we go. It looks like we have two games this week. We’re super excited about that. We’re talking to Pacific and Saint Mary’s every day and so far it looks good. We’re hopeful that we’ll play two games this week.”

League officials have been discussing contingencies this week, and the league’s coaches are talking frequently. So are the teams’ trainers. BYU’s trainer has been keeping in touch with Pacific’s trainer regularly this week, Pope said, to get updates on the situation.

On at least four occasions last season, BYU spent days preparing to play an opponent only to have that game postponed. That’s something Pope said he wants to avoid because “it’s emotionally draining.”

When guard Alex Barcello and his teammates learned that the Portland game, their WCC opener scheduled for Jan. 1, was postponed, they were disappointed.

“It was a bummer. We prepare so hard for each game. Just knowing that it’s one less game potentially we could play unless we reschedule it. We love playing games,” he said. “That’s what gets us up in the morning. Just going through the preparation and getting ready to play, there’s a lot of energy that goes into that.”

Barcello added that the situation is “difficult and frustrating” but they’re making the best of it.

“We’ve just got to keep taking it day by day,” he said. “If one of those (games) drops off, or both, at least we’re getting good practices in.”

“Without even saying anything, I think it was emotional for them. The guys didn’t say anything but it felt like the air left the building,” Pope said of having the WCC-opener postponed. “We have walked down this path before like everybody in college basketball. We’ve done it successfully.

“We’re confident that we can do it. It looks like right now, that we have two games. That’s great. It means we’ll be only down one game in the schedule. If it stays that way for the season, we’ll be super excited. There’s a chance that it does. There’s a chance that we get through the rest of the season relatively unscathed. We’re hoping for that.”

The Cougars are limited when it comes to scheduling other games to replace ones that have been lost and may, or may not, be rescheduled.

Because it played in a multiteam tournament in Hawaii, BYU is allowed a total of 31 regular-season games. The Cougars played 15 nonconference games and they have 16 conference games.

“We don’t have any games available to us out of conference. We’ve already maxed out at 15. Hopefully, (the WCC will) give us that flexibility,” Pope said. “There’s no way we’ll play a full schedule. I’m hoping that the league will give us flexibility where if you lose a game, like we lost the Portland game, that we’ll have the flexibility to try to reschedule it or keep it in the hopper and get something out of conference. We’ll see what the league decides.

“That would be our only avenue toward getting creative with our schedule. It could be really good for our league if there were flexibility. If we were canceled on, flexibility would be positive. Until that happens, we’re stuck.”

Pope said there are conversations daily about this topic within the league.

“I think what’s going to happen is they’ll give some direction now and there’s a good chance that direction changes in two weeks,” he added. “We’ll see how things go. The guidelines will probably change as we go through the season.”

There have been reports that the league is looking at playing makeup games on Mondays or Tuesdays in addition to the regular Thursday-Saturday schedule.

“There’s been a lot of ideas thrown around. I’m hopeful,” Pope said. “What I’m hoping is that they’ll give us some flexibility if you’re the team that gets canceled on.”

For now, the Cougars are just hoping to play two games this week.