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BYU’s WCC opener at Pepperdine postponed

BYU head coach Mark Pope talks to his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Southern California, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Uncasville, Conn.
Jessica Hill, Associated Press

BYU managed to play 11 nonconference games during the pandemic.

But the Cougars’ West Coast Conference opener, scheduled for Thursday afternoon at Pepperdine, has been postponed in following contact tracing protocols due to a positive Pepperdine COVID-19 test that came back Wednesday.

It’s the first BYU game that has been postponed this season. The team had already left for Southern California when the announcement was made.

Pepperdine will go on pause and the Waves’ games against BYU and Saturday’s contest against Saint Mary’s are off.

The Cougars (9-2) are scheduled to play at San Diego Saturday (6 p.m., MST).

It’s too soon to know any specifics about this BYU-Pepperdine game, but the plan is to try to reschedule it.

It seemed fitting that the Cougars and Waves were going to play on New Year’s Eve in the WCC opener for both teams.

BYU’s final regular-season game — and final win of the 2019-2020 season — happened in Malibu, California, on Feb. 29.

That day in front of a packed Firestone Fieldhouse, including throngs of BYU fans, Yoeli Childs scored a career-high 38 points on 17 of 27 shooting and collected 14 rebounds in an 81-64 victory.

With the win, the Cougars clinched the No. 2 seed at the WCC Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

After postgame interviews with reporters, Childs stuck out his hand as he customarily did in those settings but then quickly pulled back his hand and instead offered an elbow bump.

“We gotta be careful of the virus,” he said.

A couple of weeks later, the NCAA Tournament would be shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the world, and lives, would change.

Ten months later, the pandemic rages on.

The Cougars, who have won four straight contests, are hoping to continue winning, challenge perennial league favorite and No. 1 ranked Gonzaga, and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament in March.

“We know ourselves so much better than we did 11 games ago. I don’t know if I’ve ever learned as much about a team in the nonconference as I have about these guys,” said coach Mark Pope. “We still have so much more to learn and so much more to go but it’s been a barrage of information, really dynamic, changing every game. I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made. We know each other way better. If we can keep going that direction, we do have a chance to be a really terrific team by the end of the season.”

Senior guard Alex Barcello is leading the way for the Cougars, averaging a team-high 16.9 points and 4.8 assists. He’s shooting a 63% from 3-point range, which is No. 1 in the nation among players who have shot 40 or more 3-pointers.

In that game at Pepperdine last season, Barcello broke his left wrist. That injury was never reported at the time and few were aware of it.

Instead of undergoing surgery right away and sitting out for six weeks, Barcello decided to play in the WCC Tournament, where the Cougars fell to Saint Mary’s, 51-50, in the semifinals.

Barcello’s injury occurred with just a few minutes remaining in the game against Pepperdine. After stealing a pass, he raced to the basket and was fouled so hard that he landed on his head and wrist.

His teammate, Jake Toolson, rushed from his seat on the bench and onto the court to check on Barcello. Toolson was ejected from the game.

Trainer Rob Ramos diagnosed the injury as a serious wrist sprain initially but when Barcello’s wrist swelled up the next day, X-rays revealed that the bone was broken.

But Barcello decided to play anyway and his wrist was wrapped up for the Saint Mary’s game. In 32 minutes, he went 1 of 2 from the 3-point line and finished with three points, two assists and one rebound.

“I could still dribble and pass with it but it was definitely painful,” Barcello said last spring. “I obviously didn’t shoot a lot in that game. I played fine. It was painful but I could still push through and use it. It was a pain I had to push through.”

Now, as the Cougars enter conference play, Barcello is pleased with the way his team is playing and what it can achieve.

“We’re 9-2 right now,” he said. “I’m so happy for these guys, the ceiling that we have and how much we have to learn.”