The BYU men’s basketball team has been very good in the Marriott Center so far this season, posting a 9-1 record with the lone loss to the only undefeated team in the country (San Diego State).
Despite their success, the Cougars have played in front of an average of just 11,674 fans this season in 10 home games, about 60 percent of capacity. The last sellout was in 2018 against Gonzaga, 29 home games ago. The most fans to see a BYU game this season was 13,048 against Portland on January 11.
In the past, a transcendent player has increased home attendance. During Jimmer Fredette’s magical senior season in 2010-11, BYU sold out the final seven home games. At the time, capacity in the Marriott Center was 22,700. Since renovations were implemented, that number fell to 20,900 and then to the current capacity of 18,987.
When Kyle Collinsworth was turning out triple-doubles during his senior season (2015-16), average attendance was 14,699 with sellouts against Pepperdine and Gonzaga.
This season’s home average of 11,674 is a little less than last year (11,958) but still ranks 27th nationally and second to Arizona (13,527) in the West.
Good, but certainly it can be better.
This weekend BYU hosts Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s in the Marriott Center, two games that are vital to its postseason hopes.
Players and coaches often say that during the heat of the battle, they don’t hear anything because they are so focused on the task at hand. But there are moments where the fans can drive the players forward.
“When this place is full and this place is loud and rowdy, it changes everything,” BYU senior guard TJ Haws said. “I feel like it helps the team and gives us energy. I think you can feed off that. You can make big runs when you hit a bit shot or get a big stop and when you hear a big crowd get loud here, it’s as loud as I’ve ever experienced. When this place is bumping, it’s an amazing place to play.”
Senior guard Jake Toolson has had the unique experience of playing against BYU in the Marriott Center when he was at Utah Valley.
“I remember how it felt playing here as the visiting team,” he said. “It’s not easy to withstand the noise and the adrenaline and the bump that it gives us now. I think when we’re playing at home and the crowd is giving us energy, it’s just a lot of fun and that’s when I feel the best out there. It carries you here when things are stale or hard or frustrating. They can kind of just pull you out of it a little bit.”
BYU coach Mark Pope offered up his experience playing in the NBA for the Indiana Pacers against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden --“That was a hostile crew,” he said — or in Philadelphia where the crowd was as hard on the home team as it was on the opponents.
“Hopefully we’ll get to a point as a team where we’re earning a packed house and where fans want to come in here and recognize the impact they can have on a game,” Pope said. “When our student section is at its best, I’m not sure there is an equivalent out there. They can be really special.”
Haws and his wife, Lauren, are expecting their first child any day now. Haws said it’s a boy and the name they have picked out is “Tyson,” his actual given first name.
“We’re hoping for Sunday,” Haws said.
Kobe Bryant tribute
Pope was in the same draft class as Bryant in 1996 and recalled a game when he was playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. Bryant hit three straight 3-pointers late to give the Lakers the lead.
“Every shot got harder and harder,” Pope said. “The last one I’ll never forget because I was sitting right there on our bench watching it. Kobe is in a trap. He pivots twice and hits a fade away and basically lands in our laps (on the bench).
“The things he did on the court were extraordinary but what is really a tribute to him and what is heartwarming is to hear are all the stories where he quietly reached out to different people in different genres of life and tried to make an impact on their lives. That slice of legacy, hopefully that’s going to continue.”
Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
Pepperdine (4-3 WCC, 11-10 overall) was picked to finish fourth in the preseason West Coast Conference poll behind Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU. The Waves posted a 7-7 record in non-conference action but put a scare into Arizona before losing 93-91. In WCC play, Pepperdine pushed Gonzaga until the end and lost by just five, 75-70, the smallest margin of victory for the Bulldogs in league action.
The starting five for the Waves might be the most talented in the league. Point guard Colbey Ross is averaging 20 points and 7.4 assists per game. The Edwards brothers — senior Kameron and sophomore Kessler — are averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds between them. Junior guard Skylar Chavez led California junior colleges in scoring last season (27.8 points per game) and freshman guard Sedrick Altman is one of the most athletic defenders in the conference.
Pepperdine is the best free throw shooting team in the country (81 percent) and averages 77 points per game. The Waves struggle on the defensive end and are last in the conference in scoring defense (76.8) and field goal percentage defense (.459).
BYU (4-3, 15-7) is coming off a gut-punch of a loss at San Francisco, where the Dons went on a 21-0 second half run over a disastrous seven-minute period that cost the Cougars an important road win.
“They (Pepperdine) like to run and push the ball in transition,” Toolson said. “They send a lot of guys to the offensive glass. They’ve got guys that can make shots. We have to be able to defend the 3-point line, stay in front of our guy and force them to do things we want them to do. We’ve had a great week of prep for them and put the work in. It’s time to go out there and do it. I’m really excited to see how this team responds.”