BYU basketball hoping a super road to recovery starts in Los Angeles this weekend
Can the Cougars snap their four-game losing streak Thursday when they visit Loyola Marymount?
LOS ANGELES — In the city that’s hosting the Super Bowl, it’s busier, and more crowded, and possibly even more hyped, than usual.
And while there’s a lot at stake for the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl on Sunday, there’s a lot at stake here this weekend for the BYU basketball program.
Shackled to a four-game losing streak, this might as well be Super Bowl week for the Cougars. BYU’s season hangs in the balance.
BYU (17-8, 5-5) at Loyola Marymount (9-12, 2-7)
Thursday, 9 p.m. MST
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
The Cougars visit Loyola Marymount Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPNU) before playing at Pepperdine Saturday.
BYU’s hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament could be sustained or shattered depending on what happens this weekend.
This losing streak began on the road 14 days ago at Santa Clara, where the Cougars dropped a heartbreaker just before the buzzer in a 77-76 loss. They haven’t been the same since.
“Two weeks ago, we were (ahead) 74-70 with 45 seconds left and the ball,” coach Mark Pope said Tuesday. “We were 45 seconds away from the best start in the history of BYU basketball in the WCC. This has punched us in the face. It really has. We’ve staggered a little bit.”
BYU has plummeted from second place to sixth place in the West Coast Conference standings.
The Cougars (17-8, 5-5) received some help in the standings Tuesday night when Saint Mary’s lost to Santa Clara and Portland knocked off San Francisco. BYU is trying to get the best seeding possible in the WCC Tournament next month in Las Vegas.
A possible road to recovery begins at Gersten Pavilion against LMU.
The Lions (9-12, 2-7) have lost five consecutive games and sit in ninth place in the WCC. LMU’s 6-foot-6 senior forward, Eli Scott, could cause issues for the Cougars. Scott averages a team-high 16.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists.
“He’s such a problem. Would this guy just graduate and get out of here, please? He’s a terrific player,” Pope said of Scott. “He’s a point-post. He’s so physical, he’s so clever, he’s so ambidextrous in the post. He’s an elite-level passer. He’s just a problem and he has good players around him. They’re getting better. They’re a better team than they were a month ago. He’s the ring leader and he’s tough.”
Senior guard Joe Quintana averages 12.2 points and has made 58 of 142 (41%) from 3-point range.
LMU, like BYU, doesn’t have a lot of size.
“It’s going to be super interesting. They don’t have great length. What they do have is, they cover a boatload of ground,” Pope said. “They’ve got some width to them that’s really impressive. They’re super physical. They’re an underesized team but they actually make more of their living in the post than any team in our league, maybe not the Zags. But it’s super interesting how they’re built.”
Pope said his team has made some adjustments but he added that’s not what will determine success.
“Very seldom is it scheme that saves you. Scheme can inspire you. Scheme can make things a little bit easier. Scheme can buy you a little bit of confidence. It’s important,” he said. “But really, it’s the heart and soul and fight and belief. All of us are surprised where we are right now. But we’re here. That’s actually super-exciting. We have to dig out of it. It’s great … We believe we’re going to find a way to make it work.”
Last week, Pope took Caleb Lohner out of the starting lineup and decided to bring him off the bench.
Lohner has struggled this season offensively. Over the last four games, Lohner has scored 11 points and has shot 4 of 29 from the field. But he’s been a strong rebounder, grabbing 23 in the last four games.
Lohner has accepted his new role, according to Pope.
“He’s incredible. I love him so much,” Pope said. “He’s built different. He’s endured a lot of frustration. He will not let it show. He will not run away from the moment. … Sometimes adversity can reveal character. I don’t know how you could not be the most proud human being in the world to have a son like Caleb Lohner.
“Through frustration and doubt, he’s an incredible teammate, he refuses to flinch on the court. He runs off and on the court, whether it’s been a good play or a bad play and daps up his guys. You talk about being relentless. It’s not easy to do what he’s doing right now. Not everyone gets to see that up close. Caleb probably hasn’t played as well as he would like to. That’s the only thing most people see and the only thing they digest. Just like I haven’t coached as well as I would like to coach. That’s what people publicly get to digest. What I get to witness in these guys, there’s no words. He’s special. He’s dealing with it well.”
Of course, Lohner’s not the only one that struggled over the past two weeks.
For the Cougars, with all that they have experienced the last two weeks, a win Thursday just might feel like winning the Super Bowl.