BYU men's basketball sideline huddle

BYU men's basketball coach Mark Pope (in blue) consults with his players during a men's college basketball game against Pepperdine at the Marriott Center on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021.

BYU has less than two days to prepare for Wednesday’s afternoon game at Pepperdine.

It’s a good thing the Cougars are playing a familiar opponent.

BYU and the Waves met on Saturday in the Marriott Center, with the Cougars holding on for a 65-54 victory. Wednesday’s game was rescheduled from an earlier postponement.

After the game, BYU coach Mark Pope sounded like a man looking forward to the challenge.

“One of my favorite experiences in all of athletics is playing in the NBA playoffs where you play back to back to back in a five-game series or a seven-game series,” Pope said. “It’s so incredible because after a game you feel like you know where the series is headed, like there’s a tone set and kind of what’s happening. And then one play or one quarter or one game can change the whole dynamic of the series entirely. You could be up 3-1 then you lose game 5. Now you’re up 3-2 and now all pressure totally changed.

“Then you’re sitting in the office fighting each other about what adjustments are you going to make that are going to help you, trying to anticipate the other team’s adjustments. Then you’re trying to be true to who you are and make the right calls on what you’re going to hold onto with your game plan, so it is super fun.”

The Cougars would like to continue to play good defense, which held down high-scoring Kessler Edwards with a variety of defenders. BYU would also perfer to shoot a little bit better after making just 38% from the field.

The last time the Cougars played the same team back-to-back in the regular season was in 2016 against San Diego. The first game was a nail biting win at Jenny Craig Pavilion 69-67. Two nights later, BYU destroyed the Toreros 91-33 in Provo.

In 2019, the Cougars finished the regular season with an 87-73 win at home against San Diego. A week later at the WCC Tournament the Toreros embarrassed BYU 80-57.

Point is, anything can happen in back-to-backs.

“It’s going to be super fun if we win but it’s going to suck it we lose,” Pope said.

A free SaturdayOn Tuesday the San Francisco men’s basketball program paused activities due to positive COVID-19 tests within the program and postponed its next three games. That includes Saturday’s scheduled meeting in Provo with the Cougars. BYU’s next scheduled game is Feb. 2 at San Diego.

Getting his smile backSenior Alex Barcello was 0-for-7 from the field on Saturday (0-5 from the 3-point line) and only broke into the scoring column in the game’s final minutes by making four free throws. He also chipped a tooth after taking an elbow from Kendall Munson while scrambling for a loose ball in the first half but still played a team-high 27 minutes.

Pope said Barcello went to get his tooth fixed directly after the game. Then he joked about getting clearance for Barcello to have a diamond stud embedded in his tooth to blind the opposition and to look “swaggy.”

“Alex’s toughness is unmatched,” backcourt mate Brandon Averette said. “There aren’t a lot of people who would go back on the court with a chipped tooth. He’s all about the team. He looked beautiful to me. We call them battle wounds. It just means we went to war together.”

Sophomore guard Trevin Knell said on BYU Sports Nation that six players on the team were getting fitted for mouth pieces on Monday.

Coming up bigMatt Haarms scored 23 points on 9 of 9 shooting last Thursday against Portland but didn’t have a big offensive night against Pepperdine. The 7-foot-3 grad transfer was just 2 of 6 from the floor and scored only six points. But he did come up with one of the biggest baskets of the night.

The Cougars were clinging to a five-point lead with two minutes left. Connor Harding – who didn’t score but pulled down ten rebounds off the bench – came up with a steal on one end and an offensive rebounds on the other after an Averette missed 3-pointer. With the shot clock running down, Haarms took a contested fall away jump shot from just in front of the 3-point line that splashed through.

Knell said it was shades of former Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzke.

“I really think Matt said, ‘Dirk!’ when he faded,” Knell said. “He had BA (Averette) and AB (Barcello) spaced out but he said, ‘I got this.’ When he made it he looked right at the bench like, ‘You guys knew I was going to make that.’ We trust Matt and it was a big shot for us.”

Pope wanted to talk about Haarms’ physicality and rim protection on the defense end, where he had four blocks.

“I am so proud of Matt Haarms,” Pope said. “Matt was getting pushed off the block all night. Pepperdine was really physical and bodied him and he was having a tough time. He just said he was going to find a way to get physical back and he did it with rim protection. I mean, how good was his rim protection tonight? I kid you not, people in the stands were ducking when he was blocking shots because they thought they were going to get hit in the head.”

Scouting ReportEdwards finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds but made just 4 of 13 from the field, including 1 of 5 from the 3-point line. He’ll be focused on attacking early and often at Firestone Fieldhouse. Point guard Colbey Ross led the Waves with 21 points but didn’t score in the final ten minutes of the game.

“This Pepperdine team is so good,” Pope said. “They are so dangerous. Any time you have a team with a veteran guy like Colbey Ross who’s been one of the top point guards in this league the last three or four years, they can beat you in so many ways. And Kessler Edwards has such a massive future in this game. He’s such a talented player.”

BYU has won six in a row against Pepperdine and eight of nine meetings overall.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Knell said. “I feel like they will be hungry for a win going to their place. It’s definitely different to play away from home but we’re ready. We cracked the Top 30 (in NET ranking) and I feel like this was a defining win for us. Close games help us grown as a team and to be ready for tournament time.”

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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