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After loss to No. 1 Gonzaga, BYU desperately searching for new teams to play this week

Games scheduled for Thursday against Saint Mary’s and Saturday against San Diego have been called off

Brigham Young Cougars guard Spencer Johnson (20) loses control of the ball as Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Andrew Nembhard (3) knocks it away during a basketball game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. BYU lost 71-82.
BYU guard Spencer Johnson (20) loses control of the ball as Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Andrew Nembhard (3) knocks ball away during game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Gonzaga won 82-71.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

For BYU, it was another measuring stick game.

If the Cougars want to know how far away they are from the No. 1 team in the country, they found out Monday night.

BYU lost to Gonzaga 82-71 at the Marriott Center in a contest that saw the Cougars trail by as many as 22 in the second half.

After falling behind 15-2 to start the game, turnover-prone BYU spent the rest of the night trying to close the gap.

It marked the Cougars’ second loss to top-ranked Gonzaga this season, including a 17-point setback in Spokane in January.

“When we go against an NCAA Tournament team like them, we’ve got to stay locked in for all 40 minutes,” said guard Alex Barcello, who scored a team-high 20 points. “Gonzaga’s a high-talented team. Everyone on their team is a playmaker. They’re very fast in transition. They share the ball really well.”

The Zags won their 23rd consecutive game Monday. The last time they lost was at BYU last season, when the Cougars won 91-78 on Senior Night at the Marriott Center.

“We just remembered last year,” said Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, who scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. “It’s still a bitter taste in my mouth.”

Tuesday, the Cougars (15-5, 6-3) fell three spots in the NCAA’s NET rankings from No. 27 to No. 30.

In ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament projections, BYU is a No. 8 seed.

Under coach Mark Pope, the Cougars have never lost back-to-back games.

BYU was supposed to host Saint Mary’s Thursday but that game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Gaels’ program.

The Cougars were also scheduled to host San Diego Saturday but that game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Toreros’ program. BYU isn’t scheduled to play again until Feb. 18 at Pacific.

So the Cougars are looking for a game. Anyone. Anytime. Anywhere.

“We’ve kind of put some legwork into trying to find a game,” said Pope. “We’ll hit the phones hard (Tuesday) morning and see if we can find something that works for us right now. It’s super unprecedented. In this stretch run of the season, finding games, and finding the right games and finding the games at the right time for your team is super important right now. Not sure where we’ll end up. Hopefully we can find a game that fits us really, really well.”

Pope said his team would be willing to travel for a game and he would love to face a Power Five opponent and/or a top-25 team.

For the players, it’s a tough situation dealing with games being called off.

“It’s extremely hard at some points. After losses, we have to be able to bounce back,” Barcello said. “We’ve got to be able to flip the page the next day and focus on where we can get better. Whether we play on Thursday or Saturday, whatever happens, we’ve got to get better tomorrow.

“We’ve got to learn from (Monday). Our goal is to be one of the best teams in the country and make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Going up against the best team in the country, there’s a lot of things we need to work on in order to be at that level.”

Pope said he was encouraged by some things he saw Monday night against Gonzaga but acknowledged that there’s a lot his team needs to improve on.

“We saw some flashes of positivity and some things where we weren’t even close. Or we weren’t close tonight. That’s what great teams do to you,” he said. “They challenge every nook and cranny of who you are and what you do. It’s a good marker for us to get better. We have to get better. We’re down to crunch time of the season. We have to get better.”