Provo • It’s time for the BYU Cougars to get angry.
At least that’s what their coach says.
Now that BYU has completed the first half of West Coast Conference play and is entering February, Mark Pope said the moment has arrived for the Cougs to start bringing out their inner beast. And there’s no better time than right now, with Saint Mary’s arriving in Provo Saturday to try to sweep the season series, having previously beaten the Cougars in overtime in Moraga three weeks ago.
“February's sometimes not the most fun month,” Pope said. “If you do it right, it's not the most fun month. But if we do it right, then it's going to be really, really fun to see where we can get.”
While BYU hasn’t lost in the Marriott Center since Nov. 9, when the Cougars hosted now-No. 4 San Diego State, its also hasn’t won both conference games in a single week since starting WCC play. As a result, the Cougars are 5-3 in conference play (16-7 overall), tied with San Francisco for third, and just a game back of the Gaels in the conference standings.
Over the last few games, the Cougars have risen and fallen with monster runs they either ignited or allowed.
At Pacific, BYU went on a 21-0 tear to cruise to a 74-60 win. Then, at San Francisco, the Dons mounted a 21-0 second-half surge to edge out BYU, 83-82. Against Pepperdine on Thursday, BYU went on a 17-0 run early in the game, only to allow the Waves to put together a 16-0 run before halftime.
That’s where Pope believes the team needs to get angry. The Cougars need to come at it with real determination to get stops in every single possession. When they go up big in the first half, the team tends to lose its edge, which they know will cost them games, Pope said.
By this point in the season, there's also fatigue that starts playing into the players' performance, but Pope said his team has stretched and brought it every single night.
“And they’ve had a ridiculously difficult schedule with an incredibly small, limited rotation and they performed at a really high level,” Pope said. “We have to somehow get that fatigue and frustration that wants to get into our mind and we’ve got to replace it with some anger and some determination — it doesn’t matter, we’re not accepting it. We’re not accepting the fact that we may be a little emotionally fatigued right now. That is not acceptable.”
Someone who has dealt with his fair share of frustration is senior Yoeli Childs. The 6-foot-8 forward was unavailable for the first game against Saint Mary’s, having suffered an open dislocation of the right index finger a couple days prior. It was the first of four games Childs sat out.
While still not 100%, Childs said he’s getting more and more used to playing while his finger continues to heal. But there’s no way he’s missing out on the rematch against the Gaels.
Having to miss out on playing Saint Mary’s three weeks ago was super tough and super painful for Childs, who just wants to be out there to help his teammates.
“It's been really frustrating having to be out so many games this year, but I think I've been able to learn from it and grow from it, and the team has been able to learn and grow as well,” Childs said. “We all are confident and have faith that all these hiccups and things that have happened to us are going to work out to our favor later on. We're learning from everything. We took a lot from that Saint Mary's game and we're really excited to go back out there and play them again.”
Pope is expecting Saturday's game to be a big-time challenge for his Cougars.
As much as he hopes his team is able to make big plays from the 3-point line like they did against Pepperdine (BYU shot 60.7% from beyond the arc), Pope doesn't think that's how Saturday's game will play out.
Instead, he’s expecting a grind. A punch-you-in-the-mouth, physical, high-stress game.
“That’s what we live for, right?” Pope said. “I hope this joint is rocking and I hope everyone’s excited to come out because this is a big-time, high-level game against a great coach, one of the best coaches in the country, and a team — a veteran team — that’s won a boat-load of games, that’s the defending conference tournament champion, that’s already beat us one time this year. So, it’s on. It’s a big-time game. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.”
BYU VS SAINT MARY’S
At the Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff » Saturday, 8 p.m. MT
TV » ESPN2
Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records » BYU 16-7 (5-3); SMC 19-4 (6-2).
Series » SMC leads, 15-14
Last meeting » SMC 87, BYU 84 (Jan. 9, 2020)
About BYU » Jake Toolson led the Cougars over Pepperdine with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field and 7 of 10 from beyond the arc. … Yoeli Childs, who is averaging 21.2 points and 9.6 rebounds this season, added 21 points and nine rebounds against the Waves. … The last time the programs met, the Cougars came from behind, and a game-tying dunk from TJ Haws sent the game to overtime, where they eventually lost. … Last season, BYU and SMC split the series — each winning on their home court.
About SMC » The Gaels are on a four-game winning streak after routing Pacific 86-64 on Thursday. … SMC is currently second in the WCC rankings, behind Gonzaga, with a 6-2 conference record. … The Gaels have a 1-2 punch in Jordan Ford, who’s averaging 21.2 points and 3.0 rebounds, and Malik Fitts, who’s averaging 16.3 points and 7.5 rebounds.