‘Buzzsaw’ BYU faces motivated Pepperdine team in WCC Tournament semifinals that has already beaten Cougars this season
Besides top-ranked Gonzaga, Pepperdine is the only WCC team to beat BYU this season. The Cougars suffered three WCC losses this season — two against the Zags and one against the Waves.
During the regular season, BYU and Pepperdine split their West Coast Conference series, with both teams winning at home in games that were played just four days apart.
The No. 2 seed Cougars take on the No. 3 Waves Monday (10 p.m. MST, ESPN2) for the third time, this time in the WCC Tournament semifinals at Orleans Arena.
Besides top-ranked Gonzaga, Pepperdine is the only WCC team to beat BYU this season. The Cougars suffered two WCC losses this season — two against the Zags and one against the Waves.
Pepperdine defeated No. 7 Santa Clara 78-70 Saturday in the quarterfinals. The Waves were led by senior guard Colbey Ross, who broke the all-time WCC Tournament career scoring record, surpassing Loyola Marymount legend Hank Gathers.
But Ross, who poured in a game-high 25 points and dished out 12 assists against the Broncos, isn’t satisfied.
“We didn’t come here just to win one game. That’s not our goal,” Ross said. “We know how good BYU is. We’re gonna come prepared and figure some things out (Sunday) in practice and be ready to go.”
While Pepperdine has been in Las Vegas for a few days, has a win under its belt, and will practice Sunday, BYU wasn’t scheduled to arrive in Las Vegas until Sunday night and it doesn’t practice on Sundays.
“We’re going to make it work and try to turn it into an advantage,” said coach Mark Pope.
The Cougars’ first time in Orleans Arena this season will be at 8:30 Monday morning for a shootaround. Then they’ll wait until late Monday night to play for the first time in more than a week.
“It makes the day so long,” Pope said.
And it wasn’t until late Saturday night when BYU found out for certain that it would be playing Pepperdine.
“I really don’t care who we play. We’re not scared of any team. Hey, we lost to Pepperdine once. We know their capabilities,” said BYU’s Matt Haarms said earlier in the week. “We know every single team in this conference is capable. We went into a tight game with San Francisco. Every single team in this conference is dangerous. It doesn’t matter what team we play. Every team is capable.”
The Waves beat the Cougars in Malibu 76-73 on Jan. 27. That’s why they’re confident that they can pull off an upset again. In BYU’s loss to Pepperdine, it squandered an 11-point second-half lead and had 13 turnovers (including nine steals by Pepperdine), which led to 11 Waves points.
Earning a double bye into the WCC semifinals is supposed to be an advantage. But it is for a team like BYU?
Last year, the Cougars were the No. 2 seed and riding a nine-game winning streak when it lost a heartbreaker, 51-50, to Saint Mary’s in Monday night’s semifinals.
“You can frame it both ways, negatively and positively. You can say, ‘Oh, they already have games on their legs. They’re tired.’ Or you can say, ‘They’ve already played on this floor.’ I mean, there are advantages and disadvantages,” Haarms said. “But I know that we’re going to be ready. We’re going to have a shootaround on Monday and get familiar with the gym. We’ll be ready for our opponent. We won’t underestimate them.”
Pepperdine has a lot of weapons aside from Ross. Against Santa Clara, Kessler Edwards scored 21 points and pulled down 11 rebounds while Jan Zidek had 13 points and 10 boards.
Waves coach Lorenzo Romar certainly isn’t underestimating the Cougars.
“They have been an absolute buzzsaw. Since the last time we played them, they have been a buzzsaw. They’ve played exceptional basketball,” he said. “We already knew they were really good but they’ve turned it up. They’re a better basketball team than when we played them the last time. They’ve made some lineup adjustments and they’re playing really well. (Caleb) Lohner is one of the best freshmen, to me, in the country. Haarms just dominates the game with his presence. He’s the Defensive Player of the Year and rightfully so. Alex Barcello runs the team. They have a lot of good pieces and they’re well-coached. They play with a purpose. We’re going to have to play really good basketball in order to come out on top in that game.”
“I know that we’re going to be ready. We’re going to have a shootaround on Monday and get familiar with the gym. We’ll be ready for our opponent. We won’t underestimate them.” — BYU center Matt Haarms
BYU has had two Monday games this season, including a home loss to Gonzaga on Feb. 8. The Cougars dug themselves an early hole and couldn’t overcome it.
“We’re trying to figure out Monday. We are. We have a bad history this year on Monday,” Pope said. “Clearly, we started that game out incredibly poorly. We’re going to try to simulate game day as closely as we can (during Saturday’s practice) and then try to run it back Monday.”
The Cougars (19-5) are considered a lock for the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in Las Vegas. But it’s been 20 years since BYU won a conference tournament title.
“Depth can be something that can help you in a conference tournament and a defensive foundation can help you in a conference tournament, I think,” Pope said.
The Cougars are ranked in the top 30 in the country both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Haarms has helped BYU become a formidable defensive team.
“What a gift to BYU Matt Haarms has been. We’re 25th nationally in defense and we’re proud of that,” Pope said. “We actually changed some things schematically because we have Matt. He’s grown defensively and he’s done more defensively than we thought he could … Our defense gives us so much confidence. It’s been a difference-maker for us this season for sure. And Matt is the ringleader of our defensive effort.”
Pepperdine’s ringleader is Ross, who wants to lead the Waves to a big run in the WCC Tournament.
“It would mean a lot,” he said. “To win a championship is all I’ve wanted to do since I’ve been at Pepperdine. We’re working towards that.”
The Cougars are also looking to win a WCC Tournament title.
“We do have a deep team. We don’t care who scored 15 or 20 points. We just care that we get a ‘W’. We’re super excited to go into the postseason,” said guard Trevin Knell. “We trust in every guy on the team to go out and do their thing ... We’re hungry and we’re a different team than we were a couple of months ago.”
No. 2 BYU (19-5) vs. No. 3 Pepperdine (12-11)
Monday, 10 p.m., MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM