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BYU puts Gonzaga in the rearview mirror and sets sights on Pepperdine in regular season finale

Gonzaga forward Filip Petrusev, right, guards BYU forward Yoeli Childs (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Provo • The high from beating then-No. 2 Gonzaga hasn’t quite left the BYU Cougars, but come Monday they finally started to put it behind them when they all made their way to the gym for practice.

After all, the season is far from over. While No. 17 BYU was off Thursday night, there’s still Saturday’s matinee game at Pepperdine — at a place the Cougars have come to struggle in since joining the West Coast Conference.

“It was definitely a great weekend, but Monday we kind of put it to bed and kept working,” senior TJ Haws said. “I feel like that’s who this team is — we’ve taken this whole year one day at a time. We’ve built those habits, so coming back, it was really nothing different for us.”

The Cougars are currently on an eight-game winning streak, not losing since dropping a 83-82 heartbreaker at San Francisco last month. A win in Malibu would secure a No. 2 seed in the WCC Tournament for BYU and fast-track the Cougars into the semifinals.

NO. 17 BYU AT PEPPERDINE


When • Saturday, 4 p.m. MST

TV • CBSSN

Since joining the conference, BYU has never earned a triple-bye into the WCC tourney. The chance to be one game away from a championship is an opportunity coach Mark Pope doesn't want to take lightly.

On Thursday, the first-year coach talked to his team about it. Everything they're trying to work for is ahead of them, so it's time to double down, he said.

“They have fought for a long time to try and put themselves in a position where they can actually try and do what they're trying to do right now,” Pope said. “So, I don't think they're taking it for granted. … We'll see Saturday who we are right now.”

While the Cougars beat the Waves handily last month, making 17 3-pointers on the way to a season-high 107 points, they’re not expecting it be this easy this time around.

For one, BYU has split the series with Pepperdine when playing at the Firestone Fieldhouse (5-5).

The Waves also don't have a Thursday game and will have a week to prepare for the Cougars. While BYU came into this week looking to move past what will be a memorable win for the program, Pepperdine started this week looking to learn from a tough loss.

Last Saturday, San Francisco edged out Pepperdine 63-61 in overtime. The Waves had a chance to win at both the end of regulation and overtime, but couldn't get the necessary shots to fall.

Junior Alex Barcello said the Cougars will have to be mindful of the way the Waves play in transition.

“Not only Colbey Ross, but some of their bigs brought it down and got us in transition last game we played them,” Barcello said. “So, we're going to have to really lock in and make those defensive stops.”

With the team’s recent success, BYU has gotten into the national conversation, especially since jumping up six spots in this week’s AP Poll after defeating Gonzaga.

Even though the Cougars don’t want to get ahead of themselves, Pope doesn’t want his team to completely tune out the whisperings about the BYU program. There’s also just no way to do that — the Cougars are too connected into what they’re doing.

But he does hope the team is able to not get carried away by NCAA tournament projections and seedings.

“I think we need to use it for the serious things,” Pope said. “There’s a lot on the line for us. We talked about elimination games and, basically, what we have left is elimination games.”

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