As BYU visits last-place Pepperdine, can Cougars start a winning streak?
On Friday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected BYU as a No. 12 seed and one of the “Last Four In” the NCAA Tournament.
Now that BYU has snapped its four-game losing streak with an 83-82 overtime win at Loyola Marymount Thursday, what’s next?
Besides visiting Pepperdine Saturday (8 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network), the Cougars are hoping to begin moving in the other direction.
Cougars on the air
BYU (18-8, 6-5)
at Pepperdine (7-19, 1-10)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MST
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
With the victory, BYU (18-8, 6-5) jumped up one spot in the West Coast Conference standings, from sixth place to fifth.
“I think we can learn from this — and start a winning streak,” said guard Te’Jon Lucas, who scored 17 points and had nine assists against LMU.
After the Cougars lost by 33 points at home to No. 2 Gonzaga last Saturday, coach Mark Pope was brutally honest about the state of his team.
“Belief is everything. Right now, we’re questioning ourselves. We just are. It’s just the truth. Every single one of these guys are going to go home and question it. I’ll spend all night, just like I’ve spent the last 15 days, questioning the decision-making I’m making,” he said. “I’m taking notes on how I need to do things differently next year in different parts of the season. We’re all questioning right now. Questioning is scary because you’re fighting for your faith. But questioning is also a place you can grow. Are we going to grow or are we going to be like most teams and crumble and not be able to get out of it? I believe we’re going to grow. That’s what we do, that’s who we are and that’s our challenge.”
Did getting a win — the Cougars rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit — change the trajectory of this team?
“It’s nice to get a ‘W’. It’s nice to sit in the locker room and enjoy that. But every game now is going to be a life of its own,” Pope said Thursday night. “Every game now is going to be a fight to the bitter end. It’s just that way. You think about a team (LMU) that makes six 3s a game and they go 7 for 10 in the first half. It’s just what happens right now during the season. It definitely helped these guys with a little bit of belief and grew a lot of love in that locker room.”
If the Cougars want to get into the NCAA Tournament, they need to keep winning.
On Friday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected BYU as a No. 12 seed and one of the “Last Four In.”
The Cougars are also playing for seeding ahead of the WCC Tournament in March.
“Right now, we’ve got to control what we can control. And that’s the very next game,” Lucas said about the NCAA Tournament. “Right now, what we can control is being prepared as much as possible for Pepperdine on Saturday. The NCAA Tournament and everything will play out for itself if we do what we’re supposed to do. At the end of the day, we have to take it one day at a time.”
The Waves (7-19, 1-10) sit in last place in the WCC standings. They were demolished 105-61 at San Francisco Thursday.
But BYU is taking nothing for granted. Every game is going to be difficult.
After Thursday’s win, Pope said he felt “mostly just super proud. I was sitting with a couple of guys after practice on Tuesday, talking about how this game was going to be so hard. It was going to be a grind-it-out deal — not having anything to do with the opponents, but just because where we are in our season.”
Pepperdine is led by forward Jan Zidek, who averages 12.7 points per game.
BYU, meanwhile, made another change in its starting lineup Thursday. With Lucas returning after suffering an injury against San Francisco last week, Pope had Trevin Knell come off the bench.
“Right now, we’ve got to control what we can control. And that’s the very next game. — BYU guard Te’Jon Lucas,
That worked well, as Knell hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight points in 15 minutes of play.
Fousseyni Traore scored a team-high 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots. Gideon George had 18 points and Alex Barcello chipped in 12 to go along with four assists.
Maybe the Cougars have turned a corner after four consecutive losses.
“This losing streak challenged us immensely and physically. We got to go back to the film room, learn a lot, get extra shots up and get some extra weightlifting in,” Lucas said. “We had to learn as a whole and ultimately we had to have conversations that maybe you didn’t like, or maybe you did. We had to make sure guys knew what our roles were and get back to basics — making plays for each other and grinding it out on defense.”
The grind continues Saturday in Malibu.