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Alex Barcello reaches scoring milestone, leads BYU past Pacific 73-51 in WCC opener

Barcello finished with a team-high 15 points, including four 3-pointers.

Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello, wearing white, puts up a 3-point shot
Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) puts up a 3-point shot as BYU and Pacific play in an NCAA basketball game in Provo at the Marriott Center on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. BYU won 73-51.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

For BYU, the final three seconds of a sluggish first half changed the complexion of its West Coast Conference opener against Pacific.

The Cougars trailed 31-30 with 26 seconds left until halftime when Alex Barcello drilled an off-balanced 3-pointer with three seconds remaining — which put him over the 1,000-point plateau for his Cougar career — then Spencer Johnson stole an inbounds pass and scored a layup at the halftime buzzer.

Just like that, BYU took a 35-31 halftime lead and that led to the Cougars putting together a dominating second half to crush the Tigers 73-51.

“It started off with our coaching staff knowing that they were going to change from zone to man,” Barcello said of his final shot of the first half. “I saw that the dude was trailing behind me so I let it go. … How about Spencer getting the steal? I think it was just the perfect sequence that we needed, energy-wise, going into halftime, with how the first half went.”

From coach Mark Pope’s perspective, Barcello’s 3-pointer was a “remarkable” play.

“Do you know how hard it is to race off a ball screen in the waning moments of the half, try to see score and time, a changing defense, and actually jump up in the air and look behind you to make sure you can get it off and change your lean a little bit and then bang the 3?” Pope said.

Barcello said he didn’t know that he had reached the 1,000-point milestone with that shot until his teammates told him.

“I was super hyped about that,” he said.

“Alex was like, ‘I’m not getting past halftime without getting to 1,000. Tell me that’s not the truth,’” Pope joked. “No, I made that up. That’s not true.”

With three minutes left in the half, Barcello had only two points. But from there, he scored in seven points before intermission, including that 3-pointer.

“It’s such a luxury to have a veteran guy that you don’t actually have to draw anything up,” Pope said. “It’s just, ‘Alex, just go get the ball and go score for us right now.’ He does that consistently. It’s super fun to watch.”

Barcello finished with a team-high 15 points, including four 3-pointers. Fousseyni Traore (12) Te’Jon Lucas (11), Seneca Knight (11) and Trevin Knell (10) also scored in double figures.

In his first WCC game, Traore, a freshman, recorded a double-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds. He also had two assists and three blocks. He hit 4 of 5 shots from the floor and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.

“I was really impressed with him on the glass. These are challenged rebounds against two or three other bodies,” Pope said of Traore. “(Pacific) has length and athleticism. They are the No. 22 ranked defensive rebounding team in the country before this game.”

Traore’s play prompted the crowd to cheer “Fouuuuusss!” on a couple of occasions.

In the first half, BYU had issues both offensively and defensively. The Cougars had eight turnovers while they gave up six 3-pointers to the Tigers.

“We started with some frustration in the first half. They knocked down some shots,” Barcello said. “We had some slip-ups on the defensive end but at halftime we really stepped it up and came out with energy and fire on the defensive side of the ball, locking guys up.”

BYU took control of the game early in the second half. Barcello buried a 3 just 25 seconds into the period, then. Traore hit a couple of free throws, Knell and Lucas each drilled a 3-pointer and Traore threw down a dunk to give the Cougars their largest lead at that point, 48-35.

From last three seconds of first half to first five-plus minutes of second half, BYU went on a decisive 18-4 run.

In the second half, BYU made 8 of 15 3-pointers while Pacific hit just 1 of 10 from 3-point range over the final 20 minutes. On the night, the Cougars were 12 of 25 from distance.

“I told the guys that I didn’t do my job in the first half so I wanted to be better on the defensive end,” Barcello said. “On the offensive side of the ball, we were really sticky. … Coming out for the second half, we stepped up our pace and we shared the ball.”

That led to “extra passes for wide-open 3s,” Barcello added.

The Cougars tallied 17 assists on 25 made field goals.

“It’s hard to create shots for your teammates,” Pope said. “It’s part of our DNA when we function at a high level offensively. That’s a good sign for us. We didn’t feel like we were trending that way in the first half.”

Then he paused.

“Now, the 17 turnovers (that BYU committed)?” he said. “We’ll address that.”

Thursday’s game wasn’t just the WCC opener for BYU and Pacific, but, because of COVID-19 issues, it marked the WCC opener for the entire league.

That means the Cougars (13-3, 1-0) are the only team in the league with a win in conference play.

Pacific (5-10, 0-1) was led by Luke Avdalovic, who scored a team-high 12 points, including 3 3-pointers. Avdalovic was held to just two points in the second half.

The Tigers’ leading scorer on the season, Jeremiah Bailey, fell hard while attempting to dunk and landed on his hip. Trainers attended to Bailey before taking him to the locker room. Bailey, who finished with four points, returned to the game.

BYU hosts Saint Mary’s Saturday.

TIP-INS: Announced attendance was 13,584. … Before Thursday, Pacific hadn’t played since Dec. 22, while BYU hadn’t played since Dec. 29. … The Cougars shot 48% from the field while the Tigers shot just 31%. BYU outrebounded Pacific 45-27.