How No. 2 seed BYU, now No. 10 in NET rankings, plans to capitalize on its long layoff before WCC Tournament
The Cougars plan to get back to work this week and try to keep improving as they prepare for the WCC semifinals next Monday in Las Vegas.
PROVO — No. 17 BYU finished the February portion of its schedule with a perfect 8-0 record.
Now the Cougars are hoping to continue that momentum and making more magic in March.
BYU is the No. 2 seed in the upcoming West Coast Conference Tournament, which tips off Thursday at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The Cougars, who are No. 10 in the NCAA’s NET rankings and No. 13 in the Kenpom.com ratings, have received a triple bye all the way to the semifinals next Monday (March 9), with a likely showdown against No. 3 seed Saint Mary’s.
“I haven’t really dug into the WCC Tournament but that’s how we’ll spend all week this week digging in and seeing how we can compete in this tournament.” — BYU coach Mark Pope
For BYU, that will be nine days without a game after last Saturday’s 81-64 victory on Leap Day at Pepperdine in the regular-season finale.
How will the Cougars, who haven’t won a conference tournament since 2001, use that time?
“We’ve just got to get better this week. We have a whole week to get better and these guys will do it,” said coach Mark Pope. “It’s a luxury that we can be on the practice floor and get better. Then it’s on — on Monday. It’s going to be fun. We get to take a shot at this and these guys have risen to the challenge every day so far. So we’ll see if we can keep doing it.”
Yoeli Childs, who scored a career-high 38 points to go along with 14 rebounds against the Waves, echoed his coach.
“Getting better every day. We’re going to practice as hard as we can and we’re going to challenge each other,” he said. “A big shout out to our practice squad, some of these guys that are redshirting and not playing. They’ve brought it every day. It’s unbelievable to see. It’s March now and it’s a long season for them. They challenge us and we get in fights with them every day. So we’re going to do that. We’re going to get in fights and work hard and get better.”
BYU had only one game last week because of a Thursday bye. In the first half against Pepperdine, the Cougars had some offensive and defensive letdowns and trailed by three at intermission.
But in the second half, BYU outscored and overwhelmed the Waves 49-29.
“We got back to playing the way we play. In the first half, it wasn’t us. We let (Pepperdine’s) Kessler Edwards go off on us. Hats off to him, he’s a great player. But we can’t let anyone go off on us like that,” Childs said. “I thought we made a pretty good adjustment in the second half. Our flow and our feel was us in the second half. I don’t know how to explain it but we were almost just not thinking. In the first half, we were overthinking a lot of stuff. Their defense is pretty front-loaded and we were overthinking it too much. Once we got the ball moving, it affected everything else.”
Childs didn’t think that his team’s sluggish first-half performance had anything to do with last week’s layoff.
“We’re a pretty veteran group. We’re probably the oldest team in the country,” he said. “We understand what we have to do to prepare physically and mentally to show up. It’s definitely a challenge for a lot of teams but we do a good job of being prepared.”
BYU (24-7, 13-3) has won nine consecutive games and has posted its best conference record since joining the WCC in 2011-12. It marks the Cougars’ longest winning streak in conference play since 2007-08, when they were members of the Mountain West Conference.
BYU is projected to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament based on its wins, metrics and strength of schedule. The Cougars are projected as a No. 6 seed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
But Pope is not looking that far ahead.
“We’ve just got to get better. All our energy and focus has been on this game (against Pepperdine),” he said. “I haven’t really dug into the WCC Tournament but that’s how we’ll spend all week this week digging in and seeing how we can compete in this tournament. We probably won’t be able to see any farther than Monday right now. That’s how this team has done it all year and how it’s been successful.”
At Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse, BYU fans turned up in droves to support their team.
“It’s unbelievable. We got tweets from people leaving Idaho at 4 a.m. (to come to the game),” Pope said. “It makes a difference. Mostly, I’m just so glad that everybody gets to enjoy this ride. It doesn’t happen all the time and it’s happening now. I’m glad everybody’s enjoying it.”