The last time No. 23 BYU was ranked was at the peak of “Jimmermania,” back in 2011 during Jimmer Fredette’s Player of the Year season. That year, BYU ended the season ranked No. 10, but had been ranked as high as No. 3.
Last Saturday, after finishing a two-game road swing at Loyola Marymount and San Diego, coach Mark Pope said he was really proud of his Cougars’ performance, especially for beating a tough USD squad that is playing better than they look on paper.
“I think the best lesson for us — we won a really hard one,” Pope said. “We gutted out a win when maybe we didn’t look great on the court. I wasn’t disappointed with my guys’ effort at all, we just didn’t look great. We were fighting it all game long and we fought it to a win and that’s so incredibly satisfying. I’m super happy. This is a huge win for us.”
The Cougars are currently on a six-game winning streak, with only three regular-season games remaining, and have already improved on last year’s record (19-13). In Pope’s first season at the helm, his Cougars are 21-7 overall and carry a 10-3 West Coast Conference record.
What also helped BYU get a bump was that the bottom seven teams from last week’s poll (Marquette, Butler, Houston, Iowa, Illinois, Texas Tech and LSU) all had at least one loss during the past week.
“You know, game 28 was really hard for us — it was just hard,” Pope said after the USD thriller, winning 72-71. “If you look around the country, the last three days, there’s been a lot of weird games — and this is when it happens. That’s why I’m so happy about these guys because we talk about having a special locker room. And a special locker room defines itself by finding a way to win this game when we’re not actually playing great, but they just gut it out.”
Up next, BYU will host Santa Clara on Thursday before hosting No. 2 Gonzaga on Saturday in the Marriott Center.
Saturday’s game will be the first time a ranked BYU squad takes on a ranked opponent at the Marriott Center since January 2011. In that game, No. 9 BYU upset then-undefeated No. 4 San Diego State 71-58 — propelled by a 43-point performance by Fredette that overshadowed Aztec star Kawhi Leonard’s 22 points.