Fouss Traore is back.
After struggling in his return to play while nursing a sore hamstring, there was no weakness in Traore’s game for BYU on Saturday at West Virginia.
The Cougars won 86-73 and Traore dominated the paint. He moved like a nine-ton Mack truck inside. Mountaineer defenders bounced off Traore like empty barrels.
West Virginia had no answer for the 6-foot-6 BYU center on a night the No. 22 Cougars were without Aly Khalifa, who didn’t make the trip to Morgantown, and Noah Waterman was limited (both Khalifa and Waterman were ill).
Khalifa had started the last 14 games while Traore healed, but Traore was enough on this night.
BYU used 24 points from Traore to earn its second Big 12 road victory in the same building where West Virginia beat Texas, Kansas, and Cincinnati.
The win moved the Cougars to 4-4 in league play, pushing them to .500. That is a crucial data point for Traore and company as they head to another road contest on Tuesday at Oklahoma.
This is the second straight game Traore proved to be a huge burden for opposing defenses in the low block.
The Texas Longhorns found that out when they left him in the block last week so they could concentrate on BYU’s outside archers. He had 16 points and six boards in that win in Provo, playing just 17 minutes.
On Saturday, Traore played 31 minutes and was one point short of his career-high 25. The only time West Virginia made a run at the Cougars, cutting a 17-point lead to five, Traore was out of the game for a few minutes in that second-half stretch.
“Fouss was incredible,” said BYU point guard Dallin Hall on KSL Radio postgame.
Hall had 12 assists, many coming while playing a two-man game with Traore and pitching assists to teammates when West Virginia committed an extra defender on him.
West Virginia’s 6-foot-11 center Jesse Edwards, from Amsterdam by way of Syracuse, picked up two quick fouls in the first half and when he sat out, Traore had his way with 6-foot-8 muscle man Pat Suemnick.
Edwards is a tremendous big man and his return from a wrist injury has propelled a recent elevation of the West Virginia program.
Traore not only held his own, but his patience, footwork, deployment of his bulk in moves and leverage under the basket were challenges Edwards struggled to stop the entire game.
And Suemmick really failed when Traore backed him down around the basket.
“Fouss was a beast tonight,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope on KSL.
The remarkable thing with Traore’s game in the West Virginia win was the shift he had to make without Khalifa on the trip.
Khalifa is the Big 12’s best facilitator in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio and when he’s on the court, Pope uses an offense keyed on a lot of cuts and backdoor moves with Khalifa pulling the trigger.
That was unavailable on this night.
Without Khalifa, the burden shifted to point guard Hall and an offense centered on Traore posting up West Virginia inside.
That placed a lot of pressure on Hall to make decisions with inlet passes to Traore while watching which shooters were open in the motion offense.
Hall was tremendous on the night. His 3-point make late was a dagger.
“This is a lot of fun, to have this competition every night,” said Traore on ESPN’s postgame.
“I just tried to be patient against Edwards because he’s a great player.”
The bottom line is that West Virginia is a tough place to win, and the Mountaineers were on a run in Big 12 play.
BYU put that to an end, and unlike losses at Baylor and Texas Tech, the Cougars did not lose big leads, but found a way to finish.
In a sense, this win at the home of Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley, a place BYU hadn’t played since 1947, might prove a turning point for Pope and the Cougars heading down the stretch in league play.
This is a league where road wins — any wins — are tough to come by.
It makes it sweeter when it’s simply earned by making huge plays. On this night, the Cougars made enough.
The 13-point margin of victory was huge when even a one-point victory would have been satisfactory in Big 12 play.