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Why BYU’s Mark Pope says ‘physicality’ is key in the NCAA Tournament (+podcast)

Listen to Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson’s full interview with coach Pope here.

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Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope works the sideline during a game between BYU and Pacific at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Deseret News Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson welcomed BYU basketball coach Mark Pope onto his KSL NewsRadio show “Inside Sources” on Tuesday, March 16. Coach Pope and his Cougars play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this Saturday. The full interview can be found here.

Boyd Matheson: What are the lessons you’re teaching your players, rolling into what will be a fascinating March Madness?

Mark Pope: What a year of learning. There has been so much learning for our guys. One of the things that has been at the top of our list since this time last year is the idea of refusing to hold onto excuses. The worst thing for an athlete or a team is ready-made excuses. … We’ve had COVID sitting on the shelf all year long. It’s there, and it’s an acceptable excuse. But I’ve been so proud of our guys.

BM: Now, only a few days away from March Madness, you still don’t know who your first-round opponent is. What’s the preparation strategy for you, as the leader, and your team?

MP: We laughed about this. Selection Sunday is a penultimate moment for us in the course of a season. It’s such an exciting day. They put us on the bottom-left side of the bracket, one of the last teams announced. We were so excited to get the six seed, then they announced the 11 (seed) — and it’s two teams. That seemed so incredibly appropriate for us in this COVID-19 year. It’s a year of contingency plans. We’ve spent literally hundreds of hours coming up with contingency plans for everything. So we just chuckled and said, ‘Yep, why would it stop now?’”

BM: We’ll all be watching Saturday. What should be watching for?

MP: We’ve had a saying the last four weeks, really — ever since we lost to Gonzaga the second time. We were really disappointed with our physicality in that game. It comes down to that. Are we locked in and enjoying the physicality of the matchup? This is such an extraordinary sporting event, because it’s a single-elimination tournament with teams around the country. And those teams that can roll in from the tip, being fully, physically engaged, tend to have success here. The physicality of the game is the number one key for us.