After sweeping its Southern California road trip against two of the weakest West Coast Conference teams, BYU has its sights set on facing one of the best teams in the WCC, this time in Northern California.
Cougars on the air
BYU (19-8, 7-5)
at Saint Mary’s (21-6, 9-3)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MST
University Credit Union Pavilion
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
The Cougars have a bye Thursday before visiting No. 22 Saint Mary’s on Saturday.
This banged-up BYU team is more than happy to have extra time to prepare for the Gaels.
While the Cougars (19-8, 7-5) snapped a four-game losing streak this weekend, they struggled at times, particularly on the defensive end.
BYU had to rally from a 17-point second-half deficit to beat Loyola Marymount 83-82 in overtime Thursday, and then Saturday at Pepperdine, the Cougars were locked in a battle with the last-place Waves for most of the game before hanging on to win 91-85.
“We just did what we had to do. In some ways, we got better. In some ways, we’ve really got to get better,” said coach Mark Pope of the weekend’s results.
“We got more productive on the offensive end. On the defensive end, we clearly have some work that we need to address. We will.”
BYU allowed both LMU and Pepperdine to shoot well above their season averages. The Waves shot 59% against the Cougars, and freshman guard Houston Mallette scored 31 points on 9 of 11 shooting.
Still, BYU was able to get back to winning.
“It gives us the opportunity to have a really big game on Saturday. That’s a big deal,” Pope said.
“Hopefully, we have some guys that can get healthy and we can refine some things before a really huge game. Every game is huge. This is the next huge one — at Saint Mary’s on Saturday.”
Freshman Fousseyni Traore did not play at Pepperdine due to injury. His status is uncertain.
“We don’t know. We’ll see. I’m going to hope every day,” Pope said of Traore. “I don’t know how much that hope every day will do, but we’ll see … I would like to have a couple of guys more healthy.
“Let’s hope we can get there. We just have to manage whatever it is. We’ll figure it out.”
Against the Waves, Alex Barcello poured in a career-high 33 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the floor, including 9 of 10 from 3-point range.
“We turned the ball over like crazy (18 turnovers) but our assist numbers are really good for two straight games,” Pope said. “That’s a huge part of what we’re supposed to be.
“I’m really proud of how our guys got back to sharing the ball and making plays for each other. There’s a lot of guys trying to make plays for each other. Alex was the beneficiary of some of that, and some of that was he was just a really, really good basketball player (Saturday).”
Despite Saturday’s win, BYU dropped three spots to No. 51 in the NCAA’s NET rankings. The Cougars’ NCAA Tournament hopes are precarious.
Of course, a win at Saint Mary’s would be a huge boost to BYU’s tournament resume. In the previous meeting in Provo on Jan. 8, the Cougars beat the Gaels 52-43.
Saint Mary’s (20-6, 8-3) is coming off a 74-58 loss at No. 2 Gonzaga Saturday. The Gaels host San Francisco Thursday before welcoming BYU to Moraga.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Barcello said of the Saint Mary’s game. “I’m starting to think about it because we’re on to the next one. So glad we won these two but it’s on to the next.
“Saint Mary’s is a really good team. They’re playing really good basketball right now. They held Gonzaga to 74 tonight. We’ve got to come prepared. It’s going to be a battle. We’re fighting for our lives right now.”
After Saturday’s win, Barcello described what his team’s been through the past few weeks.
“It was horrible to lose, I’ll tell you that. There was a lot of soul-searching; a lot of regrouping as a team,” he said. “When you lose four games in a row, you lose some confidence. You start to question things.
“But being able to regroup and get a road sweep like this — we didn’t win by as much as we wanted to, but a win’s a win at the end of the day. It’s going to give us a good push going into Saint Mary’s next week. That’s what we need. We need to get back to work on Monday. We need to rest up (Sunday), get back to work, watch the film where we made mistakes on the defensive end and be able to guard against Saint Mary’s.”