In the first half of BYU’s opener against Cal State Fullerton, the Titans’ Austen Awosika took the ball on the break and drove in for a layup.
Out of nowhere, Arizona transfer guard Alex Barcello flew into the picture and swatted Awosika’s shot away in a classic “get that weak tot action out of here” moment that sent the home crowd into hysterics.
Barcello finished with 17 points on 7-of-9 from the field, 3-of-4 from the 3-point line, three steals, two assists and two blocks in a his BYU debut.
“Defense was our biggest thing in scout, getting back in transition,” Barcello said. “That kind of got us rolling. It was paying off and it was working.”
While Barcello did most of his damage in the first half, senior guard T.J. Haws was the catalyst in the second, scoring 15 of his 17 points.
Barcello and Haws were a pretty potent combo in Game 1.
“The thing about Alex that’s really interesting and where he helps us so much is that he’s so physical off the bounce,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “A lot of times when you’re driving guys can body you up and move you off the driving lane. Teams can’t move him because he’s so physical and tough. He’s a beautiful compliment to T.J., who’s light, slight and clever. He’s not really a physical presence in that sense. He’s more tricky and he’ll out-speed a defender. He’s all herky jerky. That yin and yang personality really helps us. They work really well together and are really good partners together.”
Haws said he was glad to have Barcello on the guard line.
“When you have good shooters on the perimeter, it really opens up the floor,” he said. “They want to play in the gaps but we can make shots. We have good and confident shooters on this team.”
Meanwhile, graduate transfer Jake Toolson struggled offensively in his return to the Marriott Center. He didn’t score in the first half and finished with seven points on 3-of-9 from the field.
“The ball got a little sticky with Jake,” Pope said. “Part of that is we’re still trying to figure out things offensively. We have a clear picture of who we are defensively and whether we execute that remains to be seen. Offensively we’re still throwing stuff against the wall and not in our comfort zone. We’ve had all kinds of different lineups. Every time we have a lineup change, we utilize different strengths. So a lot of it (Toolson’s struggles) is my fault because we’re still searching.”
Doing the hard stuff
Sophomore Connor Harding scored all 11 of his points in the first and tied for the team lead with eight rebounds.
“I’ve been hard on Connor through the Italy trip and the first five weeks of training camp,” Pope said. “I’m just talking to him every day about how to approach the season and how to be effective for us. He had eight rebounds in both games (including the exhibition win against UT Tyler) and we need that physical presence from him. And he owns every shot. He comes in (against Cal State Fullerton) and is 3 for 4 from 3 for us. He got us going with his movement and his spacing. When he gains 15 more pounds next year, he’s going to be a problem to deal with.”
Easing back into
Zac Seljaas played in his first game since breaking foot in August on the Italy trip. The 6-foot-7 senior was just 1-of-5 from the floor (1-of-7 from the 3-point line) and scored six points in 18 minutes. He also contributed eight rebounds and two assists. More importantly, Seljaas’ plus/minus was plus-26, which means BYU outscored CSF by 26 when he was on the floor.
“I think he was awesome,” Barcello said. “I know how hard Zac worked every single day. Nothing stopped him from working every single day and I’m so happy for him.”
BYU’s next opponent — San Diego State — opened the season with a 77-42 win against Texas Southern. You’ve heard of the “dump and chase” strategy in hockey? The Aztecs employ a similar game plan in basketball: They don’t shoot the ball that well but make up for it with the sheer volume of offensive rebounds. SDSU finished with 62 rebounds against Texas Southern — the most in two decades — and 35 were on the offensive end. And that’s the story of how the Aztecs shot just 39% from the field and still won by 35 points.
San Diego State has four players 6-foot-10 and former Santa Clara star K.J. Feagin is a grad transfer who can really shoot it.
“Their back court is big and their front court is so long,” Pope said. “There might be some shock when people watch us walk on the floor and then when they walk on the floor. I hope there’s shock when we walk off the floor but we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re playing a big-time team now that’s really potent offensively but their hallmark is their length defensively.”