Up next for ‘chippy’ BYU could be a chance to avenge costly Pacific loss in WCC Tournament
The Cougars weren’t able to get a Quad 1 game scheduled. So now it’s on to Vegas
BYU’s coaching staff went to great lengths to attempt to schedule a Quad 1 road game before the start of the West Coast Conference Tournament.
But, in the end, it didn’t work out.
“Our final list of teams that were Quad 1 road games, we had 10 teams. We just couldn’t get it done. I suspected that it would be really difficult,” said coach Mark Pope. “We were trying to get to a piece of paper on the table and we just couldn’t get there. … We got a lot of feedback that there are a lot of teams that are banged up. We just couldn’t get anybody to agree to give us a Tuesday or a Wednesday game.
“We had a Monday game that we might have been able to get. But that would have been a Saturday night game, Sunday travel and a no prep game. I’m not sure that would have been good for our guys’ energy or bodies. We had refined it to a Tuesday or a Wednesday and we couldn’t get anybody to take a Tuesday or a Wednesday with us.”
So the Cougars are now completely invested in preparation for their second-round game Friday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
No. 5 seed BYU (21-9) will meet the winner of Thursday night’s first-round game between No. 8 Loyola Marymount and No. 9 Pacific.
The winner of Friday’s game will likely face No. 4 San Francisco in the quarterfinals on Saturday, with top-ranked Gonzaga waiting in the semifinals on Monday.
Pope said after practice Tuesday that he likes his team’s attitude heading into the postseason.
“We’re focusing on playing with a defensive edge and making plays for each other. The edge was good. We had some guys that were salty. That made me really happy,” Pope said. “That’s how you have to be. We’ll have to translate to a massive game on Friday. The guys have some juice right now and it makes me excited.”
How did junior Spencer Johnson describe the mood at Tuesday’s practice session?
“Really positive. The two words I would describe it as positive with a chippy attitude,” he said. “When you go into these tournament settings, these teams have you so well scouted out, they know every play, every tendency of every guy. The things it comes down to is, can you execute your stuff and can you be chippy while you do it? Are you diving on the floor? Outrebounding other teams? Doing all the little things? Guys are excited to start competing.”
The Cougars wrapped up the regular season last weekend with wins over Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine.
“Coming off two wins is huge. We’ve just got to keep it rolling,” Johnson said. “That’s what so nice about the tournament settings, anything is possible. You start winning games and you start feeling good and who knows what can happen.”
When asked which team he would prefer to face Friday, Pope didn’t specify.
“We just want to play. Whether we play Pacific or LMU, we know it’s going to come down to the wire,” he said. “It’s going to be physical and brutal. Whatever team we play is going to be walking in with some confidence because they’ll be coming off a win. Both teams have pushed us to the very brink. We know how good both teams are. But everybody you play in the postseason is going to be great. We’re more excited to find out who it is so we can hone in on that.”
But Johnson shared some stronger feelings on the subject.
“It doesn’t matter to me. But it would be nice to play Pacific again,” he said. “That would be fun. A little redemption game.”
On Jan. 9, BYU fell 76-73 to Pacific, two days after suffering a heartbreaking 77-75 loss at Santa Clara on a last-second shot.
That Quad 1 loss to Pacific remains a glaring eyesore on the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament resume and it was part of a four-game losing streak.
What happened that night in Stockton?
“We didn’t have any energy. Everybody hits a point in the season where in the trenches, it just gets hard and long and you’re in the grind. Sometimes it’s easy to lose energy and lose focus of what you’re really going for,” Johnson said. “That’s what I felt like it was. We didn’t have a ton of fight. Clearly, it showed. We didn’t play very well and we couldn’t get stops. We kind of let them do whatever they wanted to do.”
Then, Johnson added, “I think it will be different this time around if we played them.”