Is Fousseyni Traore BYU’s baby Charles Barkley?

On the way to what amounts to an NCAA play-in game against San Francisco, BYU beat LMU for the third time this season, this time 85-60.

But more importantly, Mark Pope is getting some consistency out of his team. Although an underdog against the higher-seeded Dons, Pope’s got some hope with the increased confidence in what is now a three-game win streak.

You’ve got to admire what he’s got in freshman center Traore. 

He’s only 6-foot-6 and barely old enough to drive.

Yet it was fun to see Traore matchup against LMU’s senior Eli Scott on Friday night.

Scott is also 6-foot-6, and LMU loves to post him up inside because he is so strong and effective at moving people around. He has a wide body, quick feet and is built like a Marvel Comic mini-Hulk.

On Friday, LMU looked to Scott as its primary offensive weapon.

In this game, Traore and Scott were going at it in the paint. Scott got his points, but Traore was extremely impressive against the much more physically mature and experienced LMU forward.

Traore almost doubled Scott in rebounds.

Scott finished with 24 points on 9 of 15 shooting with a team-high six rebounds in 32 minutes.

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Traore had 15 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the floor and 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes. He has had 40 points and 25 rebounds the past two games.

“I don’t think he knows how good he is,” said BYU’s senior star Alex Barcello of Traore after the game.

At the 3:14 mark of the first half, Scott posted up Traore and began to back down the Cougar freshman. Scott made his spin move, rose up to shoot and Traore smacked it away.

Traore had two thundering dunks in the first 22 minutes, both coming home from high above the rim.

The thing Pope has to love about Traore is he is still in his infancy as a basketball player, although he had a solid career at Wasatch Academy before coming to Provo.

You have to note the parallel rebounding universe he’s working against with teammate Caleb Lohner.

In Lohner, Pope has an extremely gifted athlete with a body made to rebound. He is two inches taller than Traore and has quick hops. 

A year ago as a freshman, Lohner led BYU in rebounding with just more than seven a game. This on a team with 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms, who had five rebounds a game.

So, in theory, Lohner is a stud inside the paint when it comes to rebounding. In BYU’s win over LMU, he had just 6 points on 3 of 4 shots and hauled down 10 rebounds.

Traore came into Friday’s game against LMU leading the Cougars in rebounding with just over eight a game, playing an average of a minute more a game than Lohner because he’s been pressed into playing the post in the absence of injured Richard Harward and Gavin Baxter.

Down the stretch this season Traore and Lohner have had their share of battles going for the same rebound, fighting each other. This happened several times Friday night, when both were in the right position.  

Lohner is a better rebounder out of his area with his quickness. Traore is better inside most of the time because he has a kind of ghost-like extra seven or eight inches at the apex of his jump height.

Time and time again, Traore simply reaches over the top of outstretched hands and absorbs missed shots with a one-handed vice.

Traore will finish the season as the third leading freshman rebounder of all time behind Yoeli Childs and Shawn Bradley.

His six offensive rebounds against LMU tied him for sixth all-time by a freshman in a single game.

Lohner, who finished with 10 rebounds, has three consecutive double-digit rebounds in post-season games after Friday’s performance.

The Cougars play a far more talented and taller team in San Francisco Saturday night. The Dons are a 26 ranked team in the NET, a solid Quad 1 opponent. The Cougars split with San Francisco during the regular season. The winner plays No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Monday.

Saturday is a big one.

BYU will need some more of this Traore/Lohner hustle that’s surfaced the past two weeks.

It will take that and a lot more fight witnessed in the last meeting of these two squads.