LAS VEGAS — Though BYU finds itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble going into the West Coast Conference Tournament, coach Mark Pope thinks his team has made a strong case throughout the season to be invited as an at-large to the Big Dance.

In other words, Pope doesn’t think the Cougars must win the WCC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t feel like that at all. Our body of work is really good. I think we’ve got to go show well,” he said. “If we win it, we’re definitely in. What this team has accomplished is pretty extraordinary. If you go back from the get-go, what they’ve done is impressive. But we need to finish. We need to play really well in Vegas and see what we can accomplish.”

For No. 5 seed BYU, the postseason starts Friday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) in the second round of the WCC Tournament against No. 8 Loyola Marymount at Orleans Arena. 

In a first-round game Thursday night, LMU defeated No. 9 Pacific 86-66 to earn the right to face the Cougars. 

Against the Tigers, LMU guard Joe Quintana poured in a career-high 31 points on 10 of 15 shooting from the field and 8 of 10 from 3-point range. Eli Scott had 20 points and eight rebounds while Kwane Marble added 19 points. 

It will mark the third meeting between the Cougars and Lions in less than a month. In Los Angeles on Feb. 10, BYU rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat LMU in overtime 83-82. In Provo on Feb. 24, a week ago, BYU defeated the Lions 79-59

LMU coach Stan Johnson and his team are looking forward to getting another crack at the Cougars.

“They’re a good team. We’ve got to play great defense,” Johnson said. “We can’t let them get off to a strong start.”

West Coast Conference Tournament

No. 8 Loyola Marymount (11-17) vs. No. 5 BYU (21-9)

Friday, 7 p.m. MST

Orleans Arena

Las Vegas


Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM

The Lions are shorthanded and used only seven players Thursday against Pacific. LMU was without injured forward Keli Leaupepe, who scored 26 against BYU in the overtime game on Feb. 10. 

The winner of Friday’s second-round game between BYU and LMU will face No. 4 San Francisco in Saturday’s semifinals in a Quad 1 contest. 

Pope said his players are motivated and ready to play their best basketball. 

“I think we’re going to roll into this thing really chippy and really hungry and feeling some confidence and belief,” he said. “You put those four things together and I think it’s exactly how you want your team to be going into the conference tournament. I’m super hyped about that.”

Certainly, the Cougars can enhance their NCAA Tournament resume in the coming days at Orleans Arena.

Pope said preparing for two teams going into Thursday wouldn’t be much different than a normal week. 

“We try to combine a lot of concepts. You try to consolidate some defensive concepts. … It’s not totally unfamiliar,” he said earlier this week. “We’re doing the same thing with these two teams. We’re fortunate on the next night to know who we’ll play. You put those three teams into a jumble and say, ‘Where’s the commonality? Can we stretch that common ground even a little more?’ That’s how we’re approaching it.”

Pope is proud of what his players have accomplished to this point. 

“These guys have worked so hard to get here. They’ve put themselves in an incredible spot where if we go perform well, we have a chance to earn ourselves another chance to perform on the greatest stage of college basketball,” he said. “There are a lot of teams that haven’t earned that opportunity. We have. We’ve just got to go seize it. The pressure behind that has been hard-earned.”

Is it win Friday and get in (to NCAA tourney) for BYU? Why this WCC official thinks so

As if BYU didn’t have enough motivation, it wants to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament for its two senior guards — Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas. 

“It’s huge. We’ve talked a lot about it’s their last chance. Some of us will have more chances but for them, this is it,” said junior guard Spencer Johnson. “They’re not going to get to play in March Madness after this year. That’s motivation in and of itself. This is do or die for them.”

Junior Seneca Knight, who suffered a thumb injury against Saint Mary’s on Feb. 19, was sidelined for the Cougars’ final two games of the regular season.

His status is uncertain. 

“He’s doing good. He shot a little bit (Monday and Tuesday),” Pope said. “It’s going to be day-by-day.”

Pope is certain about what kind of attitude his team will bring into the WCC Tournament. 

“We’re super excited to go play Friday. You’re always trying to read the locker room and feel the spirit of your guys and where they are,” Pope said. “Right now, I think we’re excited. We think our best basketball is ahead of us. … The guys recognize the challenge ahead of us. They are respectful of how difficult it is going to be. I just think right now, these guys can’t wait to play. If we can continue to foster that, we’ll give ourselves the best possible chance to do some real damage. That’s what you want.”