Winning is hard to do.

 As BYU’s overtime win over LMU wound down in Los Angeles, freshman center/forward/rookie jack-of-all-inside the paint Fousseyni Traore gingerly limped toward the bench as trainer Rob Ramos checked his war wounds.

The win required a pressure-packed free throw with one second left by Seneca Knight. It was a night we learned the transfer guard/forward/wingman had been carrying a heavy emotional burden associated with a tragedy to someone close to him.

That overtime success, the first taste of victory in two weeks after a four-game losing streak for Mark Pope’s team, required a career assists night from point guard Te’Jon Lucas, coming off a missed game against Gonzaga for concussion protocol.

Pope watched this win develop as his team fell behind by 17 points early in the second half against a Lions team that was producing season highs in shooting from the field and beyond the arc. 

Of course, it would come against BYU, which seems to somehow stage opponent career nights these days.

This return to winning seemed to extract every ounce of energy out of the Cougars. LMU was No. 209 in the NET rankings and on a massive losing streak of its own.

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The win snapped BYU’s own losing streak but it dropped the Cougars four spots in the NET to No. 50 — definitely bubble territory heading into Saturday’s game at Pepperdine.

If anything, Pope’s season shows how fragile wins and losses can be when you’ve got fragile confidence in what you’re trying to do.

This losing steak — and breaking it — has forced Pope to examine things on the atomic level with his basketball team.

“It’s just a test of what you are as a living organism as a team. It’s the ultimate test,” said Pope.

“We’ve had to have conversations that people didn’t like — or maybe they did like,” said Lucas. He said the team has had to go back to the drawing board and film room and break things down and build them up again, defining roles again.

Of course, BYU isn’t the only team to go through losing streaks.

But for a guy who had never had back-to-back conference losses since taking the BYU job, this experience has to be humbling for Pope.

To get down by 17 in a game you simply have to win to keep NCAA hopes alive? Do it on the road? Do it with a 6-foot-6 freshman post player scoring 19 points with 12 rebounds and four blocks?

That’s crawling out of a capped pasture well.

This BYU team has a ton of work to do to get back to where it was as a solid at-large berth NCAA Tournament team. The slip down the slope has been quick and painful.

BYU should have beat LMU. It is a Quad 4 opponent.

That it was so hard to achieve shows how difficult a spot BYU was in physically, mentally and emotionally during the losing streak.

Pope is in grind mode. His team isn’t busting up teams it should with its December and early January resume. 

Imagine for a moment how somber his locker rooms have been during the four losses. You’ve probably seen the celebration videos after wins over Oregon, Saint Mary’s, Utah, Utah State and other teams, but stop for a second and think of that locker room after losses to Santa Clara, San Francisco, Pacific and Gonzaga.  

Think of subdued faces, stone-faced expressions, the gravity and heartache.

Fans get upset, mad and worked up when their teams lose.

But players and coaches put in the time, hard work and meetings, and when it comes up empty, it’s broken-heart kind of stuff.

Until Thursday’s win, no player has been available for a postgame interview session since the loss at Santa Clara.

That says something about emotions.

Now think of the relief felt in Pope’s locker room after the LMU win, after coming back from 17 down, a deficit that never should have happened in the first place.

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You wonder at the intensity of that postgame celebration. Or was it more reflective, appreciative and a big “Whew” kind of deal?

I’d bet it was different — knowing playing at 7-19 Pepperdine should bring relief, a kind of gimme mulligan this late in the season.

But when you are struggling, lose to lowly Pacific, have to go into overtime to beat LMU, well …

Wins are a hard thing.

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