BYU mbb Caleb Lohner free throw

BYU freshman Caleb Lohner shoots a free throw against Weber State in a men's college basketball game at Vivint SmartHome Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.

So far, Caleb Lohner’s freshman season has been just what the BYU men’s basketball team needs.

Lohner and the Cougars have an important two-game West Coast Conference road trip this week at Saint Mary’s and San Francisco.

The former four-star Wasatch Academy alum has started four games but recently has been coming off the bench for 9-3 BYU.

“Caleb is making a way bigger difference than people might think,” Cougar coach Mark Pope said. “For us to be solid on the glass every single night gives us confidence. Not only does he do the work on the defensive glass, but his offensive rebounding gives us extra possessions. That’s worth way more than just the face value of the numbers. There are some parts of his game that he’s frustrated with right now. A less mature player might be distracted from continuing to do the things he’s great at.”

Breaking down Lohner’s statistics bears this out.

He’s shooting 38% (25 of 66) from the field and just 5 of 27 (19%) so far from the 3-point line with three of those makes coming in one game against Utah State. Lohner has been solid from the free throw line (16 of 22, 73%) and is averaging 5.9 points per game. He scored 11 points in wins against Utah State and Weber State. Last week in a loss at top-ranked Gonzaga, Lohner was one of the few bright spots offensively and scored a career-high 13 points.

It’s on the boards where Lohner truly shines. He’s averaging a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game in just 19.6 minutes per game. He has 22 offensive rebounds (second to Richard Harward’s 24) and his rebound and put back clinched the Weber State game two weeks ago.

“Caleb is an awesome player,” teammate Matt Haarms said. “He’s just a freshman but he’s already playing with force. He’s one of the strongest guys on the teams. He has great rebounding ability, which is what gets him in games. He’s going to be there for us. He’s getting better and better this season at not fouling and playing within the offense. When he’s a senior he’s going to be so phenomenal.”

Hotshot freshmen rarely show much patience but the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Lohner is fine doing whatever he’s asked to do to help the Cougars be successful.

“Right now one of my key roles on this team is getting rebounds,” he said. “If that’s something I need to do to win games I’m going to do it. I’ve found it really fun going to the glass, getting rebounds and bringing some juice to me and the team. It really gets us going on the defensive end of the floor.”

Lohner is also humble enough to realize he still has a lot to learn.

“Playing college basketball, I’ve only been in this deal for five months,” he said. “I don’t think I realized coming in from high school how much would change and how much learning I needed to do. My game plan coming in, I know as a freshman I’ve got to do things right to help the team win. Some of those things are rebounding the ball and getting stops on the defensive end. If I do that, everything else is going to come.”

Scouting ReportSaint Mary’s lost four-year starter Jordan Ford to graduation and second-leading scorer Malik Fitt left early to pursue professional basketball. The Gaels opened the season with a loss against Memphis then reeled off eight straight wins before losing to San Diego State 74-49 on Dec. 22.

Saint Mary’s had its first two WCC games (Pepperdine and San Diego) postponed then opened league play with a 66-64 home loss to Santa Clara last Saturday.

Senior guard Tommy Kuhse has nearly tripled his scoring output from a year ago (5.9 points per game to 14.8) and averages 5.7 assists per game. Cincinnati transfer Logan Johnson is averaging 11 points per game and scored a career-high 26 in the loss to Santa Clara.

Per usual, Randy Bennett’s team plays precision, deliberate offense and sticky defense.

BYU got drilled at No. 1 Gonzaga — join the club — but Pope said he and his players will focus more on themselves heading into the Saint Mary’s game.

“Our team spent a lot of time last week talking about the Zags and focusing on what they do well,” Pope said. “Upon reflection, I wonder if we leaned that way a little too much. Taking into consideration that we begin this week on the road we’re trying to spend a larger percentage of time focused on what we can do better.

“We’re full aware of how physical and fundamentally sound these Saint Mary’s teams are. These games always turn into a physical slugfest and a grind-it out game. We’ve spent some time talking about the potential pace of the game and the space on the floor. But we’re also spending a lot of time focused on us.”

RescheduledThe WCC game between BYU and San Diego that was originally scheduled for Jan. 2 has been rescheduled for Feb. 2 in San Diego with a 7 p.m. MT tip off.

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter

@darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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