It’s a busy week for the BYU men’s basketball team, which hosts Southern Utah on Wednesday and travels to Houston on Friday.
Those two-games-in-three-days kind of road trips can be hard on a team, but Cougar coach Mark Pope embraces the chaos.
“It’s not ideal but we’re excited about the opportunity,” Pope said. “Our whole goal, everything we’re thinking about every single day is how can get better and how we can prepare ourselves to be a great team by the end of the season. These obstacles are great because they just expose things.”
While BYU fans may grumble about the Cougars defense and lack of offense in the first half and at the end of the game in the loss against San Diego State on Saturday, Pope sees a lot of teaching moments that present a good way to grow as a team.
“It lets us know exactly where we are right now and exactly where we need to grow,” Pope said. “There’s no guessing or wondering, we just know. We learned so much from that game. Now this little three-day run is awesome because we get to have a chance to go out and compete under not-easy circumstances.”
Pope said NCAA rules prohibit watching game video with the team after a game but technology allows for posting the video and making it available to the players.
“It’s posted there for anybody to devour that wanted to and I got a ton of feedback from the guys,” Pope said. “We came in Monday and spent a really quick ten minutes on film segments before practice.
“One of the things I was really excited to share with our guys is this lesson that we were kind of stuck in the mud for 20 minutes and we didn’t let it take our heart away. We didn’t get distracted or so disenfranchised with the game that we couldn’t come out and find ourselves in the second half.”
Pope said he used the theme from the movie, “Finding Nemo,” which is “just keep swimming.”
“We just kept swimming and gave ourselves a chance to stay in the game,” he said.
A 21-3 spurt in the second half allowed BYU to turn a nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead, and the Cougars are committed to re-creating that ball movement and intensity.
“In that run what I saw was that we really shared the ball well,” BYU sophomore guard Alex Barcello said. “We have great shooters on this team. We swung the ball a few times around the court and it was just beautiful. That’s the way we should play and the way we know how to play. I think we just keep doing that and sticking to that and I know we’re going to come out with more wins.”
On his way back
Pope praised the play of senior Zac Seljaas, who is rounding into form after breaking his foot in August.
“This mustache of his has got me so thrown, but I do know this: For two games he’s played so hard,” Pope said. “He was good for us this summer through the first two games in Italy. He was maybe our best player. It’s going to take him some time to find that back, but he’s a beautiful young man and a pleasure to coach. When he gets his legs back a little bit more he will be able to do more things on the court.”
Pope said the outlook for former Gonzaga transfer Jesse Wade isn’t trending for a quick return.
“He had the surgery (on his knee) a week or so ago,” Pope said. “It’s probably going to be a three-or-four-month deal, we’re just not sure. But it’s going to be a significant time period if not the season.”
Southern Utah (2-0) hasn’t had any success against BYU in the Marriott Center – the Thunderbirds are 0-11 all-time – but come into Tuesday’s game after shocking Nebraska in double overtime in Lincoln on Saturday.
“They are really good,” Pope said. “Coach (Todd Simon) has done a really good job there. They are really, really long and really athletic. They are going really hard in transition and they have some incredibly talented players.”
Former Boise State transfer Cameron Oluyitan is the team’s returning leading scorer (13.1 points per game) and had the game-winning shot with two seconds left in the second overtime against Nebraska. Former UNLV transfer Dwayne Morgan – Pope called Morgan a “five-star kid and a pro” — led the Thunderbirds against Nebraska with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Former Westlake High School standout Maizen Fausett had 13 points and eight rebounds off the bench for SUU.
“They are going to come in here raring to go and fearless,” Pope said. “That’s what you love. We’re excited to have them in here. I know intimately what it’s like to be on the other side of these in-state games. It means a lot and they are circled on the calendar. In-state games are awesome because there is more at stake. You get to go into the backyard with your brother and beat the living daylights out of him.”