BYU coach Mark Pope has referred to last year’s senior night as the “most epic” in school history as the Cougars honored seven remarkable seniors and upset No. 2 Gonzaga in front of a sold-out Marriott Center and national television audience.
After the game, fans stormed the court in celebration and Pope made good on a pregame promise, spending $1,800 on his credit card to feed the student section at a local eatery.
A year later, BYU (18-5, 9-3) is planning to stage another senior night unlike any other.
In Thursday’s 79-73 victory over San Francisco, a little less than 2,000 fans attended. It marked the first time fans had been allowed to watch the Cougars at the Marriott Center this season.
The same number of fans will be permitted again Saturday (8 p.m. MST, ESPNU) in the home finale and regular-season finale against Saint Mary’s.
Before tipoff, the school will recognize its trio of seniors — Brandon Averette, Alex Barcello and Matt Haarms.
“We’ve got clearance to honor all of them,” Pope said. “It’s going to be really fun.”
It is expected to be those seniors’ final home game as Cougars although they could choose to return for another season since the NCAA has pushed pause on the eligibility button for players this season due to the pandemic.
“If any of these guys decide to come back, there’s not going to be a single person in the entire BYU Cougar Nation family that feels anything but sheer joy and exhilaration,” Pope said. “If what’s right for them is to leave, then we’ll be forever indebted with gratitude for what they’ve done to represent BYU. So we’re going to celebrate them as big as we can with 1,750 people in the arena. And they’re going to celebrate together by continuing to work as hard as they can for our team to get better and keep winning.”
Haarms, the 7-foot-3 grad transfer from Purdue, has reiterated this week that this is his final year of college basketball. But he’s grateful for this season he’s spent in Provo.
In this unusual year where fans haven’t been allowed to attend games and people are wearing masks and socially distancing, Haarms has appreciated the support, including when they recognize him and say, “Hey, you’re Matt Haarms.”
“I’ve had a lot of those, especially recently. It’s been awesome to see the support, not just in person on campus but on social media,” Haarms said. “Of course, I wish it were a ‘normal’ experience but it’s still been really special. This is a year that I’m going to look back on for the rest of my life as being really special. That’s why I’m so committed to making sure that we go as deep as possible in the postseason. I’m really committed to this team and to BYU. I’m really happy to be here.”
Against San Francisco, Barcello scored a career-high 29 points and set a new school record by going a perfect 7 of 7 from 3-point range.
While at the University of Arizona, Barcello lost his love for the game of basketball. He became disillusioned and discouraged. But he’s said he feels reborn at BYU, where he’s played the past two seasons. He’s become the consummate senior leader.
“I believe in Alex. All of us trust Alex,” said forward Gideon George. “He’s the captain of the ship. He’s a great leader, leading the way.”
Averette, who began his career at Oklahoma State before playing last year at Utah Valley University, has been a key addition for the Cougars this season. Averette has made big shots for BYU in several games.
“These are extraordinary young men. We’ve all been blessed,” Pope said of the seniors. “It’s been special to watch these guys lead and represent BYU.”
The three seniors have helped the Cougars to a No. 25 NCAA NET ranking (although down three spots after beating USF), a likely No. 2 seed in next week’s West Coast Conference Tournament and a projected No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Saint Mary’s (13-7, 4-5), meanwhile, beat Pacific at home Thursday. The Cougars defeated the Gaels in Moraga last month for the first time in seven years.
It’s always a grind-it-out battle when BYU and Saint Mary’s collide.
“They’re going to guard. And they’re going to push and shove and scratch and claw and just bully and beat us up,” Pope said. “We know what we’re in for. It’s going to be a heckuva a game. It’s senior night. I don’t think (the outcome) is going to have significant implications on conference standings. But it’s an important game for us in terms of us continuing our momentum, us getting better, us trying to grow our positioning for NCAA Tournament possibilities. It’s a huge game. And it’s really important for us to honor our seniors.”