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BYU’s backup point guard situation ‘a work in progress’ ahead of Saturday’s showdown with red-hot Texas

Trey Stewart hasn’t played significant minutes since the Cougars’ Big 12 opener, but coach Mark Pope doesn’t want to talk about it

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Brigham Young Cougars guard Trey Stewart congratulates Brigham Young Cougars guard Dawson Baker

BYU guard Trey Stewart (1) congratulates Dawson Baker (25) as he comes out of the game as BYU and Georgia State play at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. BYU won 86-54.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

When BYU starting point guard Dallin Hall picked up his fourth foul early in the second half against Houston on Tuesday night, it seemed like a great time for coach Mark Pope to give junior Trey Stewart a chance to run the team.

After all, Stewart is healthy, by all accounts, and played reasonably well in non-conference games before struggling in the Cougars’ Big 12 opener against Cincinnati, a devastating 71-60 loss at the Marriott Center.

“That is going to be a balancing act all year long that we will weave in and out of and just try and figure out. How many (different) starting lineups have we had? Our rotation changes every single game, it seems like. So it will probably continue to do that.” — BYU basketball coach Mark Pope.

Perfect time for a second-chance in league play, right?

Well, not exactly.

Six-foot-7 senior Jaxson Robinson moved over to the point, as he has done in relief of Hall since the Cincy game, and the Cougars didn’t miss a beat. Noah Waterman and Trevin Knell hit 3-pointers and Knell made three free throws after getting fouled attempting a triple, and BYU got back within three points of the No. 4 team in the country.

Why isn’t Stewart playing more?

Pope got that question Thursday in his weekly press briefing with reporters, but remained as vague as the sun during a Utah winter inversion.

“Trey is doing great. He is coming every day and competing and he’s had a huge impact on our team and will continue (to do so),” Pope said. “We are trying to find some extra minutes for Jax and he actually did an unbelievable job in transition when we finally could secure a rebound. He was incredible pushing the ball in transition and was kinda slicing the floor and making plays for guys.”

In the aforementioned Houston game, BYU posted five straight empty possessions after trimming the deficit to 46-43, and when Hall came back with 13:08 remaining, the red Cougars led 56-43, their largest lead of the night.

“That is going to be a balancing act all year long that we will weave in and out of and just try and figure out,” Pope said of the backup point guard situation. “How many (different) starting lineups have we had? Our rotation changes every single game, it seems like. So it will probably continue to do that.”

Knell sustained a foot injury in the 63-58 win over UCF and missed the 87-72 win over Iowa State, with Robinson starting in his place for the first time. Knell was good to go against Texas Tech and Houston, but Robinson stayed in that starting role.

Pope said the starting lineup, the rotations and the point guard situation are “all a work in progress” and was noncommittal about Robinson’s role moving forward.

“I don’t know that it matters that much. Jax is probably statistically playing a little bit better off the bench,” he said. “Rotation-wise, there might be some advantage to having him start. Same with Trev. We will kind of piece that together as we go. The one thing we know is everything can change if history is any indicator of the future. It will change every single game, partly because of our decision-making and partly because of necessity.”

With Waterman back after missing the Texas Tech game with a concussion and Fouss Traore playing well in the final 10 minutes against Houston, BYU seems to be as healthy as it has been all season. But Pope said Thursday that at least one of the three bigs — Traore, Aly Khalifa and Atiki Ally Atiki — wasn’t going to practice later that day. Asked if there has been a setback — all three have battled through injuries this season — Pope said it is just load management.

“Like, we have one guy with a broken thumb, and one guy with a busted knee, and one guy with a bad hamstring. It is just what we got,” he said, half-joking. “Our bigs are like all us — they are middle-aged men at the rec center who are trying to get through another day of playing.”

Another change on the horizon is Saturday’s tipoff time, which is at noon in the Marriott Center against Texas (3-3, 14-5), an upset winner at No. 11 Oklahoma its last time out.

Pope said he loves early games and it shouldn’t be a factor in how the Cougars play, partly because they practice in the early afternoon all the time.

I think our guys will enjoy it. It is a fun part of college basketball in this league that we get to have these games,” he said.

Cougars on the air

Texas (3-3, 14-5) at No. 21 BYU (2-4, 14-5)

Saturday, 12 p.m. MST

Marriott Center

Provo, Utah

TV: ESPN2

Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM