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After road sweep, BYU eager to play at Marriott Center for 1st time in a month

Coach Mark Pope is looking forward to the time when his team can play in front of fans, especially at home. 

BYU’s bench celebrates defends during the Cougars’ 87-71 victory over Texas Southern at the Marriott Center in Provo on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.
BYU Photo

Fresh off a big Bay Area road sweep, BYU is returning home for a game for the first time in a long time.

The last time the Cougars (11-3, 2-1) played at the Marriott Center was Dec. 21 in an 87-71 victory over Texas Southern.

When BYU hosts its scheduled West Coast Conference home opener Thursday against Portland, it will mark exactly a month between games in Provo. The Cougars are also set to entertain Pepperdine Saturday.

Coach Mark Pope is looking forward to the time when his team can play in front of fans, especially at the Marriott Center. For now, fans aren’t allowed to attend games due to the pandemic.

“Hopefully, somehow, by some miraculous way, please, let us make some huge, unpredictable headway with this COVID so we can get some fans in the stands toward the end of the season,” Pope told the BYU Radio Network. “I just would like Cougar Nation to be able to feel these guys on the floor, to feel their toughness and their fight and their competitiveness because it’s actually really special. Let’s keep praying for that.”

BYU was originally scheduled to host Pacific Jan. 7 but that game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Tigers’ program. The Cougars instead played at No. 1 Gonzaga that night and fell 86-69.

Then last weekend, BYU earned a huge sweep with wins at Saint Mary’s (62-52) and at San Francisco (72-63). The Cougars hadn’t won in Moraga since 2014 and hadn’t emerged victorious in San Francisco since 2018.

“I could not be more proud to be associated with the basketball team right now with what they did this weekend,” Pope said.

“Just knowing that we beat two tough, really good teams in our conference,” said guard Alex Barcello, “that’s a great feeling.”

Against San Francisco, forward Richard Harward came off the bench to record a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He scored eight consecutive points late in the second half as part of a 17-2 run that sealed the game for the Cougars.

After Saturday’s triumph at USF, BYU moved up two spots to No. 32 in the NCAA’s NET rankings. The Cougars have certainly burnished their NCAA Tournament resume in the past week, particularly with their Quad 1 victory at Saint Mary’s.

BYU owns a 2-3 record in Quad 1 games this season. The Cougars’ losses have come at the hands of opponents with a combined record of 37-3 — USC (11-2), Boise State (12-1) and No. 1 Gonzaga (14-0).

In the NET rankings, Gonzaga is No. 2, Boise State is No. 17 and USC is No. 18. BYU has defeated No. 43 Utah State, No. 44 San Diego State, No. 76 Saint Mary’s, No. 89 San Francisco, No. 106 Utah and No. 121 St John’s.

Against both Saint Mary’s and San Francisco, BYU sputtered in the first half before taking control in the final minutes of the second half.

“It really speaks to our toughness, how to battle through, and to continue to get stops and put stops together,” Barcello said. “We say three continuous stops is a ‘kill’ and we had a lot of those (Saturday).”

Barcello added that he and his teammates need to get off to better starts.

“As a senior leader, it has to start with me. I’ve got to clean up my turnovers. I had too many turnovers (Saturday) in the game,” he said. “I’ve got to battle through that and bring more energy to the team. What we can do as a whole is, we’ve all got to protect the ball. But at the end of the day, we have to get stops. Stops translate to offense. On the offensive end, we have to play with pace and force.”