Blaine Fowler and I have been announcing BYU games for over three decades for KSL-TV, SportsWest, Blue and White Network, BYUtv and now ESPN+. We have seen and heard a lot of things over the years, but what Bellarmine head coach Scott Davenport said after Friday’s 101-59 loss to No. 17 BYU at the Marriott Center was a first.
“You might think I’m crazy, but that’s a team that could win the national championship. Mark it down, on Dec. 22, I’m saying it right now, that team could win it all.” — Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport
“You might think I’m crazy, but that’s a team that could win the national championship,” Davenport said of the 11-1 Cougars. “Mark it down, on Dec. 22, I’m saying it right now, that team could win it all.”
Davenport had just finished his postgame radio show when we walked over to wish him a Merry Christmas and safe travels home to Louisville, Kentucky. As with each opposing coach, we spent time with him as part of our pregame preparation and occasionally we get together for a follow-up after the game.
“They have everything you need, and their best players (Fousseyni Traore and Jaxson Robinson) didn’t even play,” he said. “I know they had the Utah loss, but never mind that one. Some nights the ball doesn’t go in the basket. But I’m telling you, in my opinion, that team has everything you need to win it all.”
BYU throttled the Knights with six players scoring in double figures, including a bench that produced 44 points. The nation’s leading 3-point shooting team nailed 16 long balls. The nation’s leading assist-to-turnover-ratio team handed out 30 assists to nine turnovers (three after halftime).
“I’ve seen these kinds of teams,” Davenport said. “Just like with Kansas and San Diego State the last couple of years, they are so experienced, they are deep, they rebound, they play defense, they share the basketball, and they can all shoot.”
BYU was Bellarmine’s sixth and final Power Five opponent this year. The Knights, who are in their third season as a Division I program, went 0-6. They were defeated at Washington (by 34 points), at Kansas State (8), at West Virginia (4), at Louisville (5), at Utah (42) and in Provo (42).
Davenport is in his 19th season at Bellarmine. His 417 victories make him the winningest coach in program history. The former Rick Pitino assistant at Louisville won the Division II national championship in 2011. In the Knights’ second season at the D-I level, he coached them to the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship.
He’s seen a lot of basketball teams, and he is free with his opinions. For a BYU program that hasn’t ever made it to the Final Four, Davenport’s self-projection of the Cougars’ NCAA potential raised a few eyebrows. But just as a pessimist has a right to declare a glass half empty, a veteran like Davenport can express his conviction that the glass is half full.
And when it comes to BYU’s basketball team, he’s not alone.
National coaches rank the Cougars No. 15, the media has them No. 17. The NET rankings, which factor in the strength of their opponents and is the standard used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, bumped the Cougars back up to No. 3 after routing the Knights. Prior to Friday night’s victory, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had BYU projected as a No. 4 seed.
Davenport also isn’t the first coach to say something after a game that has grabbed our attention. After BYU’s 74-65 victory against No. 17 San Diego State, Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher asked us about Dawson Baker. The transfer guard from UC Irvine had yet to practice with the Cougars due to a foot injury.
“That kid is the best shooter on their team,” said Dutcher, whose Aztecs lost to UConn in last year’s NCAA championship game. “That kid can play. He lit us up for three years.”
In his second game back against the Knights on Friday, Baker scored 10 points while showing flashes of talent that was new to BYU fans, but not to Dutcher.
The Big 12 season begins Jan. 6 at home against Cincinnati when BYU expects to have a healthy Traore and Robinson back on the floor. The Cougars were picked 13th among the 14 teams during a preseason vote. There aren’t do-overs for early polls and really good nonconference records can get snuffed out quickly in league play. Time will work all of that out.
For now, this is a holiday season for BYU fans to cherish. The Cougars are doing things no one expected, and opposing coaches are saying things no one has said before. Does BYU really have a team capable of winning it all?
Scott Davenport says yes.
BYU’s Mark Pope says he just wants to beat Wyoming — because they are up next on Dec. 30.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.