After beating Weber State 87-79 Wednesday night at Vivint Arena, BYU improved to 9-2 on the season in what was a grueling non-conference schedule. 

Things are expected to get even tougher from here as West Coast Conference play tips off on New Year’s Eve at Pepperdine.

But coach Mark Pope is pleased with what his players have accomplished.

“I feel exhausted right now. If I’m feeling exhausted ... these guys have put in an unbelievable effort the last three months. This 11-game stretch has been incredibly challenging with six top-100 teams in a row and five in-state games, which are always a bloodbath,” Pope said. “I couldn’t be happier with where we are. We have a lot of improvement to do if we’re going to be competitive in our league but I’m excited with where these guys have come so far.”

The Cougars have played 11 games, more than most teams around the country. And they’re grateful for that. 

“We’re very blessed, very fortunate that we’ve been able to get 11 games in,” Pope said. “We’re enjoying every single one, every single minute of it.”

How does senior Matt Haarms assess his team’s performance at this point? 

“We’re pretty satisfied. We’ve got some great wins already. We’re getting better every single game. I’m really proud of that. Heading into conference play, it’s going to start getting tough,” he said. “We’re probably one of the teams that have played the most games so far. We’ll have a lot of wear on our legs.

BYU holds on for 87-79 victory over Weber State to record its fifth in-state victory of season

“These couple of days off for Christmas are going to be awesome. Conference play is going to be a grind. We’ve got to be ready for that. We’re going to play some tough competition right away. Pepperdine is a really good team.”

Four of BYU’s first five WCC games will be on the road. 

Freshman Caleb Lohner has yet to play a WCC contest but he’s heard plenty about the nature of league games from his teammates. 

“They’re telling me that it’s a beast,” he said. “Conference play is even tougher than non-league play. We’re really excited.”

Asked to grade his team’s performance thus far, Pope gives it an “A.” 

“I don’t say that because we’re playing great basketball. I give them an ‘A’ in terms of their focus, their drive and their determination have been tremendous.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

“I don’t say that because we’re playing great basketball. I give them an ‘A’ in terms of their focus, their drive and their determination have been tremendous,” he said. “This COVID, with all the craziness that it brings is the worst thing for an athlete and a team because you have an excuse that’s sitting right there. … The fact that my guys have stayed focused through this first third of the season, through all of the challenges they’ve faced, is a real credit to them. That’s what I give them an ‘A’ for.”

BYU has been hard at work for months preparing for the season, then it experienced a compressed, challenging non-conference schedule, highlighted by an upset of No. 18 San Diego State.

Now, the Cougars will enjoy the longest break they’ve had in quite a while. They are taking the rest of the week off to celebrate Christmas and they won’t reconvene until Saturday night for a “no-stress” practice, according to Pope.

“We’ll be off Sunday and get back to work on Monday. This break is really important for my guys to emotionally de-tox. We’re so grateful for it, but this has been a grind,” Pope said. “With two-a-days, then jumping right into the season with a non-stop, tighter window of games than we’ve ever played before with it being so competitive, I’m so glad my guys crossed this mini-finish line and they’ve got a couple of days to not have to hear my voice. They’ll be grateful for that.”