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Spencer Johnson filling key role for BYU basketball

By Darnell Dickson - | Jan 27, 2022

BYU guard Spencer Johnson prepares to shoot during the game against Saint Mary's at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (Harold Mitchell, Special to the Herald)

BYU coach Mark Pope said Spencer Johnson is probably the most undervalued player on his team.

Undervalued in the media, maybe, or by fans. But the Cougars understand what they have in Johnson.

“Most of the guys I recruit tell me ‘no’,” Pope said. “Spencer was one of those guys. We got a second crack at him and I just think he felt sorry for me and said yes. His story is pretty awesome. I fell in love with him while he was playing the summer before his senior year. This guy, you look at him and you don’t think can make these plays. Then he makes every play at every level. He has a poise about him that is incredibly special.”

The 6-foot-5 guard from American Fork took a very long and winding path to Provo, following Pope to Utah Valley, then for a while at Weber State, then to Salt Lake Community College before committing to play for BYU two years ago.

“He did something that takes a ton of courage,” Pope said. “He left a Division I scholarship to play junior college. It’s really an extraordinary thing. You take that step back and people kind of write you off. It’s like your confirming the fact that you’re not good enough. It takes so much courage to bet on yourself. That’s what he did.”

As a sophomore at BYU, Johnson averaged 17.5 minutes and 5.1 points per game while shooting 46% from the floor and 41% from the 3-point line. This season, his numbers are similar: 21.2 minutes and 6.9 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc.

His defense is the most impressive part of his game, according to Pope.

“The thing that stood out to me was his closing speed,” Pope said. “That’s what we watch every single game. That combined with his toughness and physicality, he’s skilled and so special. He’s been a star, man. It’s been incredible to watch. He’s probably the most undervalued guy on the team. I’m not saying that because we undervalue what he does. It’s that he gets the least amount of attention for the incredible amount of work he does.”

The soft-spoken Johnson got married last summer to Isabella Yates, daughter of former BYU basketball player Robbie Yates.

“I became a way better basketball player and a person once I got married,” he said.

As for his role on the team, Johnson said, “I would say I’m just kind of the do-it-all guy. If we need a stop or a rebound or to make a shot, if I need to clap for guys on the bench, that’s what I do. I think it’s a really important role. I feel a lot more confident compared to last year and I’m more confident with the ball in my hands.”

Scouting Report

BYU has already faced Gonzaga, the nation’s most efficient offensive team, and given up 110 points. The second-best offensive team in the West Coast Conference is the Cougars’ opponent on Thursday.

Santa Clara is No. 1 in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (38%) and No. 2 in scoring (76.6 points per game), free throw percentage (77%) and field goal percentage (48%).

The Broncos leading scorer is guard Jalen Williams, a matchup nightmare at 6-6 who is averaging 18.3 points per game. Santa Clara also has a strong inside game with 6-7 Keshawn Justice (14.7 ppg), 6-9 Josip Vrankic (14.2) and 6-10 Missouri transfer Parker Braun (9.1).

On Monday, Santa Clara outlasted San Diego in overtime 78-74, with Vrankic scoring 22 points.

Third-year coach Herb Sendek recently won his 500th career game.

“They’re big, starting with Jalen Williams who is huge,” Pope said. “He’s a point guard and an off guard and brings so much size to the equation so it becomes complicated. Not only is he shooting over the top but he’s also seeing over the top of the defense. Passes you can normally take away, he makes those passes easy. Herb is a smart coach. They use their size to their advantage. Their length, it’s a problem.”

The Cougars are just one spot out of the Top 25 in this week’s Associated Press poll.

“With all the other metrics, it sounds like we’re probably where we should be ranked,” Pope said. “We have another opportunity this week with really tough games on the road. We can prove if we belong there.”

Men’s College Basketball

BYU (5-1, 17-4) at Santa Clara (2-2, 12-7)

Thursday, 9 p.m. MT

Leavey Center, Santa Clara

TV: ESPNU

Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio, Sirius XM 143/BYU radio app

Live stats: byucougars.com

The Word: BYU leads the overall series with Santa Clara 32-6. … In the last meeting (2020), the Cougars won 85-75 in Provo. … The Broncos last win in the series came in 2017. … BYU is 5-1 in WCC play for just the third time. The Cougars have never started league play 6-1.

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