Ever since last Memorial Day weekend, when he announced that he was returning to BYU for one more season, senior guard Alex Barcello has expressed numerous times his desire to win championships and finish his career in the NCAA Tournament. 

The Cougars’ dreams of playing in the NCAA Tournament officially ended on Selection Sunday.

But BYU did receive a No. 2 seed in the National Invitation Tournament and it will host Big West Conference regular-season champion Long Beach State Wednesday (7 p.m. MST, ESPN+) in the first round. 

What is the Cougars’ motivation going into the NIT after dealing with the disappointment of not getting into the Big Dance?

“You get a chance to go compete and see if you can win more games and win a championship. Anytime you have the opportunity to do that, it’s pretty special,” said coach Mark Pope. “There’s not that many teams that have a chance to do it. There’s 270 teams that are out, not of their choosing. They’re just done. It’s pretty special anytime you get a chance to compete in the postseason.”

In 2013, when Pope was an assistant coach at BYU, the Cougars advanced to the NIT semifinals in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. BYU lost to Baylor in the semifinals. 

Three years later, the Cougars reached the NIT semifinals again, falling to Valparaiso.

BYU has won the NIT championship twice in program history, in 1951 and 1966. 

“You know how much I love history. I love it. Our job is to find every which way we can to make history,” Pope said. “There are only two teams in the country that are going to hang a postseason banner — the NCAA (champion) and the NIT (champion). We’d sure love to get one of those. That would be something nobody’s been able to do in (56) years. Let’s give it a shot.”

That’s the message Pope gave his team after the NIT bid was extended. 

“We have an opportunity to go do something that hasn’t been done here in a long time, and that’s really exciting,” he said. “This is a special time of year. You get to compete. If you lose, you’re done and you clean out your locker and you’re out. There’s a special intensity that comes with that.

“It’s something that we’re going to fight to take advantage of and see what we can do. This hasn’t been an easy season for us. In a lot of ways, we’ve had some really tough moments, some devastating injury moments that have been super hard on the core of our team.

“If you love this game and you love being around a great group of young guys that are fighting with everything that they have, they just don’t want it to end. I think our guys feel that and certainly our staff does,” Pope continued. “We have incredible leaders on this team that are going to keep pushing this group as hard as they can to see what we can become. It’s exciting. We’re excited to take on the challenge Wednesday night to see if we can stay alive to fight another day.”

The Cougars will continue to be shorthanded in the NIT. Seneca Knight recently underwent season-ending thumb surgery. Te’Jon Lucas, Caleb Lohner, Fousseyni Traore and Atiki Ally Atiki are among those players coping with a variety of injuries.

The BYU-Long Beach State winner will face the winner of No. 3 Saint Louis and No. 6 Northern Iowa. 

Long Beach State is led by guard Joel Murray, who averages 16.5 points per game, guard Colin Slater (14.4 ppg) and guard Jadon Jones (10.5 ppg). Aboubacar Traore leads the team in rebounding (8.1 rpg).

Pope said that despite the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament, his team will be ready Wednesday.

“When the season ends, they’re going to find games at the rec center,” he said. “They just want to play.”

National Invitation Tournament

No. 7 Long Beach State (20-12)

at No. 2 BYU (22-10) 

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Wednesday, 7 p.m. MST

Marriott Center


Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM

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