He might not have meant the difference between winning and losing, but BYU’s basketball team really could have used 6-foot-11 senior Noah Waterman against No. 25 Texas Tech on Saturday.

Waterman, who is having a breakout season in Provo, was a late scratch with what coach Mark Pope called “a health issue” in BYU’s 85-78 loss to the first-place Red Raiders in front of 15,098 at United Supermarkets Arena. It has been reported that Waterman suffered concussion-like symptoms after BYU’s 87-72 win over No. 24 Iowa State on Tuesday.

“That is also the punishment of this league. We are going to have to do better than we are doing right now at actually being healthy. That is actually a really important part of playing at this level, is being able to consistently put a crew out on the floor where you have some continuity.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

The Cyclones, by the way, bounced back Saturday with a 73-72 win at No. 19 TCU in another Big 12 game that illustrates just how unpredictable this crazy good league is in 2023-24.

The Cougars have become quite unpredictable themselves, even in the middle of games. They were like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde in Lubbock, jumping out to a 48-32 halftime lead and then falling apart in the second half.

Without Waterman on the court at all, and with Fousseyni Traore (hamstring) and Trevin Knell (foot) playing, but at less than 100%, the Cougars (2-3, 14-4) ran out of gas. What was supposed to be a deep team when the season began is far from that now.

UC Irvine transfer Dawson Baker will have foot surgery soon and is lost for the season; Kansas/Gonzaga transfer Marcus Adams Jr. is traveling with the team but still “has little aches and pains that he is trying to work through,” Pope said last week, and has played in only one game.

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The Cougars desperately need Adams, or a healthy Traore and Waterman, if they hope to make some noise in their next 13 league contests. There is just simply no margin for error, as BYU learned Saturday in the second half.

They opened the second half with eight straight missed shots, while Tech scored 12 points on its first six possessions after the break, and what was looking like BYU’s second Big 12 road win turned into a nightmare on the West Plains for Pope’s squad.

Waterman hasn’t necessarily been great against top-tier opponents, save last week’s 18-point performance against ISU, but he was sorely missed. He is averaging 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, and helps spread the floor and take some of the pressure off the other perimeter players.

Curiously, two other experienced players — point guard Trey Stewart and post Atiki Ally Atiki — also didn’t play.

Pope told the BYU Sports Radio Network after the game that sometimes the best ability is availability.

“That is also the punishment of this league. We are going to have to do better than we are doing right now at actually being healthy,” he said. “That is actually a really important part of playing at this level, is being able to consistently put a crew out on the floor where you have some continuity.”

Spencer Johnson is the only Cougar who has started every game this season. Along with Johnson, guards Richie Saunders and Dallin Hall are the only players who have appeared in all 18 games.

“It is going to be really important for us (to get healthy),” Pope said. “We have an elite level performance team. We gotta find a way to do this better. You don’t think about that all the time, but it is going to be important for us moving forward.”

Cougars on the air


No. 4 Houston (3-2, 16-2)
at No. 21 BYU (2-3, 14-4)
Tuesday, 7 p.m. MST
Marriott Center, Provo, Utah
TV: ESPN+
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

It is going to be huge this week, as BYU hosts No. 5 Houston on Tuesday and perennial power Texas on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if the Cougars stay in the AP Top 25 college basketball rankings when they are released Monday, after BYU went 1-1 against ranked teams last week.

Houston (3-2, 16-2) could move into the top three, after pummeling UCF 57-42 on Saturday with a supreme defensive effort. The Knights could only muster 14 points in the first half.

Regardless, it will be a top-five matchup in the NET rankings, as Houston is No. 1 and BYU is No. 5, dropping just one spot after the loss to Texas Tech.

Houston is No. 1 in KenPom.com, while BYU is No. 9 in that metric.

Houston guard Jamal Shead reacts after making a basket during game against West Virginia, Saturday Jan. 6, 2024, in Houston. The Cougars are coming off a win over UCF last Saturday and will face BYU at the Marriott Center Tuesday. | Eric Christian Smith, Associated Press