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BYU faces ‘huge’ road game at Loyola Marymount, followed by revamped schedule for final week of regular season

The West Coast Conference announced league-wide scheduling changes for the final week of the regular season. For the Cougars (16-5, 7-3), those changes were significant

Loyola Marymount guard Eli Scott looks to pass during a game against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Scott leads LMU in scoring (17.9), rebounding (8.2) and assists (3.9) per game and will be point of emphasis for the Cougars during game Saturday afternoon.
Young Kwak, Associated Press

The twists and turns of this unusual pandemic college basketball season continue.

Playing in its first game in more than a week, BYU crushed Pacific 80-52 Thursday night at the Spanos Center and then on Friday, the Cougars climbed from No. 29 to a season-high No. 25 in the NCAA’s NET rankings.

Not long before that resounding victory, the West Coast Conference announced league-wide scheduling changes for the final week of the regular season.

For BYU (16-5, 7-3), those changes were significant.

The Cougars originally were scheduled to host Santa Clara next Saturday. Instead, they will play San Francisco on Thursday and Saint Mary’s in the regular-season finale next Saturday.

Coach Mark Pope held back when asked about his reaction to the schedule modifications.

“I have a whole host of very clearly delineated comments in my mind that I’m not going to share about that,” he told the BYU Radio Network. “Our focus right now is, we have a huge game on Saturday.”

BYU visits Loyola Marymount Saturday (1 p.m., MST, CBS SN) at Gersten Pavilion in Los Angeles.

The Lions (11-6, 6-3) mounted a late rally to defeat San Francisco Thursday on the road, 68-63.

LMU scored the game’s final seven points, all from the foul line, over the last 66 seconds. The Lions’ 7-foot-3 center, Mattias Markusson, scored 11 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Eli Scott added 18 points and dished out seven assists for LMU, while Keli Leaupepe chipped in 14 points.

Scott leads LMU in scoring (17.9), rebounding (8.2) and assists (3.9) per game.

“LMU is playing great basketball right now,” Pope said. “They probably have, aside from the Zags, the most difficult matchups in our league — some matchups that are really problematic and are going to test us and challenge us. It’s always hard to play in that gym.”

Before beating Pacific, BYU hadn’t played a game in 10 days. The Cougars have endured a few long layoffs during the WCC schedule due to COVID-19 issues affecting other teams that have resulted in canceled or postponed games.

“As you get into the dog days of February right now, the whole key — and it’s not easy — is can your team stay focused on the task at hand and not get distracted by any of the other nonsense, no matter where it’s coming from?” Pope said. “Our guys did a great job of that (Thursday) and we need to do a good job of that on Saturday.

“We’ll just keep taking care of our business and let the craziness happen around us. Bring it. We’ll keep doing our job. … If these guys can keep focused, they have a chance to accomplish special things.”

BYU enjoyed one of its best performances of the season at Pacific. Freshman forward Caleb Lohner scored a career-high 19 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Lohner buried 5 of 6 3-pointers.

“It just felt good,” Lohner said of his performance. “From the first one to the second one, I progressively got more and more confidence shooting the ball well. It was a fun night.”

Alex Barcello and Trevin Knell both scored 15 points, while Brandon Averette added 10 and Matt Haarms chipped in eight.

“Everyone’s contributing,” Lohner said. “Different people on different nights have different kinds of games.”

As a team, BYU hit 13 3-pointers against the Tigers. Knell came off the bench to knock down 4 of 6 3s.

“We’re just getting better and better,” Lohner said. “We’re working hard and finding ways every day to improve.”

Meanwhile, Gonzaga has clinched the WCC regular-season championship after defeating Saint Mary’s on Thursday.

BYU (7-3) is alone in second place in the standings, just ahead of Pepperdine (6-3) and LMU (6-3).

“We’ve got another big one Saturday,” Lohner said. “We’ve got to take care of business and move on.”