MALIBU, California — Almost from the outset, it looked like it was going to be one of those nights for BYU guard Alex Barcello.
A career night.
The senior set the tone Saturday by knocking down five consecutive 3-pointers during a four-minute stretch early in the first half and, in the end, he poured in a career-high 33 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the floor, 9 of 10 3-point attempts, and 4 of 4 from the free throw line.
And he had zero turnovers.
Barcello’s remarkable and efficient performance helped lead the Cougars to a 91-85 victory over Pepperdine at Firestone Fieldhouse.
“It was the most efficient 33 points I’ve ever seen in my life,” said coach Mark Pope, referring to Barcello’s 12 shots.
“I’ve never seen a game like that ever.”
Pope compared it to Christian Laettner’s famous 10 of 10 game against Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight, acknowledging that this was a much different situation.
Barcello only missed two shots, and he was one 3-pointer shy of tying a single-game school-record for 3-pointers made — Chase Fischer knocked down 10 against Chaminade in the 2014 Maui Invitational.
In the crowd at Firestone Fieldhouse, a Cougar fan had a sign that read, “It’s my birthday Barcello. Swish one for me.”
Well, happy birthday, buddy. Barcello swished nine of them.
Barcello had 22 points and six 3-pointers at halftime.
His previous career-high was 29 points, set last season against San Francisco. Barcello eclipsed that mark with 11:39 remaining in the game on his ninth 3-pointer that gave him 31 points.
Barcello’s final two points came on a pair of free throws with 20.4 seconds remaining.
Barcello credited his teammates.
“They’re so great. They kept telling me to keep shooting. They know my mindset. I’m not a guy that likes to force shots, but if the shot’s there and it’s a good shot, I’ll shoot it. They kept finding me,” he said.
“I thought we played really well. We were able to create for each other on the offensive side of the ball these past two games. We didn’t win these games by as much as we wanted to. We’ve got to clean a lot of things up on the defensive end, but offensively, we’re just making plays for our teammates, which is really special.”
Part of the reason for Barcello’s shooting success was how Pepperdine defended him.
“I credit my guys but it was the way they were guarding me. There were a lot of miscommunications in the first half,” he said. “Most every team in this league is face-guarding me now and sending two to the ball.
“They had some miscommunications, and I think the way we were moving the ball on offense and creating for each other exploited that. Thankfully, I was able to hit some shots tonight.”
The Cougars (19-8, 7-5) had 18 assists on 32 made field goals and they shot 64% as a team.
For the fifth consecutive game, BYU fielded a different starting lineup.
Freshman Fousseyni Traore, who tied a career-high with 19 points, made 8 of 11 shots, pulled down 12 rebounds and blocked a career-high four shots in last Thursday’s 83-82 overtime victory at Loyola Marymount, was sidelined Saturday due to an undisclosed injury.
Toward the end of the game at LMU, Traore was hobbling and was not available to play against Pepperdine (7-20, 1-11).
In Traore’s place, Caleb Lohner returned to the starting lineup, and he made the most of it.
Lohner scored 14 points, hitting 6 of 7 shots from the floor, and made his presence felt inside in Traore’s absence.
“I was really proud of him. He was really solid defensively,” Pope said. “He was really patient offensively and made really solid decisions.
“It was fun to see a couple of shots go down for him. I thought he played terrific tonight.”
Lohner played a crucial role in Saturday’s win, Barcello said.
“It’s crazy how this game works out. He did an unbelievable job at letting the game come to him tonight. He didn’t try to force anything. He shot wide-open 3s, he shot the ball the same way he always does. He made great plays on the offensive end, driving into the paint — jump hooks, layups.
“He had some big-time rebounds, some big-time plays on the defensive end. His move down low where he missed the left-handed layup was incredible. That’s the Caleb that we know, and that’s the Caleb that’s going to help us come March. I was just so happy for him tonight because he looked so comfortable out there.”
Spencer Johnson came off the bench to score 12 points, and guard Te’Jon Lucas finished with 10 points and seven assists.
As well as Barcello played, Pepperdine freshman guard Houston Mallette almost matched him.
Mallette scored 31 points on 9 of 11 shooting, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
“He’s a young guy. He’s playing great basketball right now. We’ve got to figure out a way to stop guys like that when they go on runs and they’re being as efficient as he was tonight,” Barcello said.
“We have to figure out ways to guard him as a team. A lot of credit to him because he’s a young guy and he’s able to make such a huge impact on the game as a freshman.”
Said Pope of Mallette: “He does a couple of things really well. He uses screens really well. For a freshman, he’s super advanced on his stop-and-go. It’s like a Reggie Miller-feel to it. He’ll stop and let you run into him and then explode off again. He was a handful tonight. His IQ as a basketball player on the offensive end is really high. He was outstanding tonight.”
As a team, the Waves, who entered the night as one of the worst shooting team in the country, shot 59% from the floor. Jan Zidek added 20 points for Pepperdine.
In the first half, BYU fell behind by as many as eight points as Pepperdine went up 16-8.
That’s when Barcello took over, drilling five consecutive 3-pointers to close the gap to 18-17.
“I felt good. I try to go into every game thinking, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’ No matter if I miss my first five or hit my first five, I’m going to continue to shoot the ball if it’s a good shot,” Barcello said.
“It felt good watching those first five go in, I’m not going to lie. That gave me a lot of confidence just to be able to continue to shoot the ball at that high clip throughout the rest of the game.”
Later in the half, the Cougars enjoyed a 12-0 run, featuring a corner 3-pointer by Lohner and a dunk by Atiki Ally Atiki, who finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
A floater by Barcello with 6:56 left gave BYU its first lead of the game, 29-27.
Fittingly, Barcello ended the half by nailing a 3-pointer with seven seconds on the clock. The Cougars outscored the Waves 29-11 over the final 8:46 of the first half.
BYU never trailed in the second half, but Pepperdine never relented as the Cougars hung on late to sweep their Southern California road swing.
BYU visits Saint Mary’s on Saturday.