Heading into the final month of the regular season, BYU is stuck in a three-game losing skid.

The Cougars posted a 2-5 record in the month of January, are tied for sixth place in the West Coast Conference standings, and have a losing record (4-5) in league play. 

But amid difficult circumstances, coach Mark Pope is hopeful that his team can persevere and continue to improve in the month of February. 

BYU is coming off a bitter setback — Saturday’s 57-56 loss to No. 22 Saint Mary’s — in another classic game in the rivalry between the Gaels. It was the final WCC matchup between the two programs in Provo.

Saint Mary’s freshman guard Aidan Mahaney knocked down a game-winning, fade-away jumper with three-tenths of a second remaining. 

Quite a gut-punch of a going-away present from Saint Mary’s to BYU, which joins the Big 12 next season.

“It’s super painful,” Pope said.

How shorthanded BYU lost in the final moments to a ranked opponent again — this time, Saint Mary’s
3 BYU players suspended for matchup against No. 22 Saint Mary’s
3 keys to BYU’s 57-56 loss to No. 22 Saint Mary’s

Yes, January was a rough month for the Cougars, who are seeing their postseason hopes dwindle. They also lost a one-point game to then-No. 8 Gonzaga on a 3-pointer in the final seconds at the Marriott Center on Jan. 12.

Next up is a home game Thursday (7 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network) against Loyola Marymount, which defeated BYU 64-59 in Los Angeles on Jan. 5. 

On Jan. 20, the Lions upset then-No. 6 Gonzaga 68-67, shattering the Zags’ 75-game home winning streak. 

LMU (16-7, 6-3) is in third place in the WCC. The Lions have won four games in a row, including Saturday’s 84-70 victory over Pepperdine.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Pope, whose team is ranked No. 94 in the NCAA’s NET rankings. “We’ve just got to get better. We don’t have the luxury of feeling sorry for ourselves. We just don’t have that luxury. We are certainly in a little bit of a hole.

“But I think we’re super optimistic that we can keep getting better. There’s a lot of season left. And there’s still everything on the table. We’ve got to get better. That’s all our guys are thinking about — how can we get better? That’s where we’re going to live.”

Saturday against Saint Mary’s, BYU was without starter Jaxson Robinson and reserves Atiki Ally Atiki and Noah Waterman, who did not play because they broke a team rule. Freshman Richie Saunders started in place of Robinson against the Gaels.

Robinson, Ally Atiki and Waterman are expected to return to action against LMU. 

After the game, Pope fielded a couple of questions about those absences, but he didn’t want to address that topic.

“I’m super emotional. We just had eight dudes battle like crazy in heroic fashion. What are we talking about here?” he said. “We had some special guys put up special performances. Let’s talk about that.”

One of those special performances came from freshman guard Dallin Hall, who poured in a career-high 23 points on 9 of 14 shooting from the field. Hall also contributed four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block. Entering the night, Hall was averaging 6.8 points per game.

Pope did acknowledge that some players had to play different positions with Robinson, Ally Atiki and Waterman unavailable. For the Cougars, would being at full strength have made a difference against Saint Mary’s? That’s hard to say because of how well Hall played. 

BYU could have used the size and length of the 6-foot-10 Ally Atiki and the 6-foot-11 Waterman, but the Cougars still managed to out-rebound the Gaels 33-25.

Meanwhile, Fousseyni Traore had 11 points and eight rebounds and Spencer Johnson added nine points, including three 3-pointers. Trey Stewart came off the bench, scored two points and grabbed two rebounds and provided a spark. Chaminade transfer Tredyn Christensen added a basket as well.

Pope was pleased with the way his team matched Saint Mary’s physicality. 

“We didn’t manage it early very well,” he said. “We adjusted to it much better as the game went on. … This Saint Mary’s team is great. They’re undefeated in our league and they’re the No. 6 defensive team in the country. They’re good at what they do. Our guys were really good for the most part. We’re just one possession not quite good enough yet. That is such a brutal reality of this game.”

One of the positives for the Cougars — they had only 12 turnovers against the Gaels. Last weekend, BYU had 34 turnovers combined in losses at Santa Clara and San Francisco. 

Pope emphasized that his players “are committed. We’ll sit in this room and feel a lot different in huge ways if we keep pounding away. That’s hard to do. … There’s so much growth that needs to take place.” 

More challenges lie ahead, with home games against LMU, Santa Clara (Feb. 16) and San Francisco (Feb. 25). And BYU still has to make trips to Gonzaga (Feb. 11) and Saint Mary’s (Feb. 18).

The WCC tournament tips off on March 2. The Cougars are hoping to avoid the dreaded Thursday first-round games for teams seeded 7-10. That’s something BYU has never experienced in its 12 years in the WCC.

As tough as the last few weeks have been for his team, Pope remains optimistic that good things are in store as long as it continues to persevere. 

“The karma of this game catches up. If we keep pounding on this wall, we’re going to break through,” he said. “And when you do, with this young group, this group has a chance to be really special. That’s dependent on us (to) keep pounding away. And it’s hard right now.”

Loyola Marymount (16-7, 6-3) at BYU (14-10, 4-5) 

Thursday, 7 p.m. MST

Marriott Center

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM