Facebook Twitter

‘We desperately want to play’: BYU coach Mark Pope explains how Thursday’s game at No. 1 Gonzaga was scheduled on short notice

Tuesday, the Cougars (9-2, 0-0) filled the void on the schedule for Thursday — moving up a showdown with the best team in the nation

SHARE ‘We desperately want to play’: BYU coach Mark Pope explains how Thursday’s game at No. 1 Gonzaga was scheduled on short notice
AP20336740275043__2_.jpg

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

A long, frustrating week for the BYU basketball program, which saw the postponement of three consecutive games and attempts to schedule other games, has resulted with the ultimate challenge. 

Tuesday, the Cougars (9-2, 0-0) filled the void on the schedule for Thursday — moving up a showdown with the best team in the nation. 

BYU, which hasn’t played since Dec. 23, will visit No. 1 Gonzaga Thursday (6:30 p.m. MST, ESPN). It will mark the Cougars’ West Coast Conference opener. 

This week’s game against the Zags (10-0, 1-0) is a rescheduling of the Feb. 6 meeting and not an additional game. What will happen with that Feb. 6 game is yet to be determined.

“When everything else fails, the one coach and program in America that you know is going to be like, ‘Bring it, man, we’re not scared,’ is the Zags,” coach Mark Pope said on his coach’s show on BYUtv Tuesday night. “I couldn’t love them more right now just for the fact that they’re like, ‘Let’s play.’ We desperately want to play and they desperately want to play.”

The WCC, BYU, Gonzaga (10-0) and ESPN worked together to modify the schedule. BYU was originally set to host Pacific Thursday while the Zags were supposed to play Santa Clara Thursday. 

Both Pacific and Santa Clara have been on pause due to COVID-19 issues. About half the programs in the WCC are on pause. 

Last weekend, four of five league games were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. That led to discussions among coaches and league officials, Pope said.

“I think we’ve made some strides in terms of how we as a conference are going proceed going forward. I’m incredibly optimistic about that. … All of the coaches started a dialogue. I’ve talked to half the coaches in the league in the last 48 hours trying to work things out. That is how this is going to work the rest of the year.”

The Cougars haven’t played since Dec. 23, an 87-79 win over Weber State. BYU has a bye on the schedule Saturday. Their next scheduled game is Jan. 14 at Saint Mary’s.

A lot of effort went into getting a game to play Thursday. 

“It’s been a mad scramble. As we found out that we were losing those two games last weekend and this game this week, I really believe that we can’t just expect that we’re going to put these games off and get them back,” Pope said. “What we did is start a massive dialogue with the league and coaches around the league. We talked to about a total of 20 teams, some that were missing games because their opponent had been on pause outside of our league, every team that could possibly play inside our league. As soon as we found out our game (Saturday) was canceled on Friday, we called some other teams but it just didn’t work. Every day, multiple times a day, trying to find teams to play.”

No doubt, Pope and his team are happy to have a game this week.

“I’m super grateful to the Zags. I say that now,” the coach said. “We’ll see how I feel Thursday night after the game. I can’t say enough great things about them.”

In the most recent meeting between BYU and Gonzaga last Feb. 22 in Provo in the regular-season finale for both teams, the No. 23 Cougars knocked off No. 2 Gonzaga 91-78 in front of a sellout crowd at the Marriott Center. 

The Zags are riding a 14-game win streak, 44-game home win streak, and a 22-game WCC home win streak.