BYU junior forward Gideon George has had to be patient as his playing time has waxed and waned during the 2020-21 season.
In the first six games of the campaign, George was on the floor an average of 16 minutes per contest. In the next five games, however, he played less than four minutes a game.
His playing time increased to 13 minutes per contest in the last seven games, but he still only got three minutes of action in the 76-73 loss at Pacific.
But he’s obviously been doing something right in practice and when he has been playing, since BYU head coach Mark Pope decided to give him his first start in Thursday’s game at Portland.
George rewarded the confidence of the decision by turning in his best showing in a BYU uniform.
He tallied a game-high 19 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two steals as part of an overwhelmingly dominant Cougar performance. BYU build a first half lead and never let up, pounding the Pilots, 105-60.
“Coach just wanted me to rebound the ball and just play basketball,” George told the BYU Sports Network after the game. “I was just ready to go. When my name is called, I was just ready.”
Cougar head coach Mark Pope said the decision to start George and freshman Caleb Lohner was because BYU wanted to see how those guys would respond.
“Gideon is growing and has done a great job taking care of the opportunities he has had,” Pope told the BYU Sports Network. “We’ve known for a long time that he has a huge ceiling and this was another positive step for him. It’s that point in the season where it’s time for these newer guys to step up. I’m super-proud of those guys for responding.”
He was also quick to laud the contributions of other players who may have not gotten as much time on the floor but are doing everything they can to keep the solidarity of the team.
“I was even more proud of the guys who didn’t start tonight,” Pope told the BYU Sports Network. “I know we talk about this all the time. Kolby Lee’s performance tonight in the locker room and in the game was probably more important to us growing as a team and being successful than Gideon George’s. When you are functioning on a team, Lee was incredible tonight. Trevin Knell has been starting the last several games but came off the bench tonight. His focus was so good that the first thing he did was grab three defensive rebounds. He came in with renewed energy. This game tonight was a testament to what these guys are trying to accomplish in their locker room.”
The Cougars were on a four-day road trip that resulted in just one game, since Tuesday’s game at San Diego was canceled, but George said that fired the BYU players up.
“Two days ago I was disappointed that the game got canceled,” George told the BYU Sports Network. “We were just going back and forth, talking smack to each other. We just wanted to get out on the floor.”
The Cougars proved it on the court against Portland, roaring out of the gate to build a 23-11 run midway through the first half.
The Pilots bounced back with a 9-3 run to get to within six points, but they would get no closer.
BYU ended the first half with a 14-0 run to go into the break with a 52-30 lead, then scored six of the first eight points in the second half to squash any Portland hopes of a rally.
The Cougars later added another 14-0 run midway through the second half as the lead just continued to grow.
A big part of the success was rebounding as the visitors had a dominating 46-12 edge on the boards, with George singlehandedly outrebounding the entire Portland team (13-12).
“I’ve never seen that stat in my life,” Pope told the BYU Sports Network. “That’s incredible. He was spectacular tonight.”
BYU — which shot 62.7% from the field and 62.5% from beyond the arc — ended up having eight players with eight points or more and six in double figures.
In addition to George’s 19-point showing, seniors Matt Haarms and Brandon Averette both contributed 15 points. Senior Alex Barcello and junior Connor Harding had 12 points apiece, while Lohner chipped in 11 points.
The Pilots were led by 17 points from forward Eddie Davis.
The Cougars (15-4, 6-2) now go from playing the worst team in the West Coast Conference to preparing to face the No. 1 team in the country.
“I feel like we’ll go back and do the work,” George told the BYU Sports Network. “We’ll be ready to play the Zags.”
BYU will host No. 1-ranked Gonzaga at the Marriott Center in Provo Monday night at 9 p.m.