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BYU faces USC to start another big week for the basketball team

(Photo courtesy of BYU Athletics) Brigham Young's Matt Haarms (3) defends during a basketball game against Utah Valley in Provo, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020.

BYU men’s basketball wants another shot at national prominence, after breaking into the AP top 15 last year and finishing the season at No. 18 when the postseason was cut short due to the pandemic.

Despite winning three games in four days, BYU still couldn’t crack the Top 25 in the latest rankings, released Monday.

BYU’s best chance to crack the Top 25 will come this week as the Cougars play in the Roman Legends Classic. BYU will face USC on Tuesday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Graduate transfer Matt Haarms is excited for the opportunity and believes it should be a good test.

“I think it’s going to be a really good challenge for us to really see where we stack up against a team of that caliber,” Haarms said. “We did it this week, we had some dog fights, but I think USC will definitely be — easily — the most talented team we’ve played so far.”

Tuesday’s game will also be the first of three this week. It is the second consecutive week the Cougars play as many games.

However, this time the three games will be spread out over five days; BYU will have a day off between each tip off. The Cougars will play a second game at the Roman Legends Classic (against St. John’s) before traveling back to Utah to play at Utah State on Saturday.

If it seems like a lot of action, BYU coach Mark Pope knows it. But that’s how he likes it.

Playing three games last week allowed the Cougars to learn where they are, he said. And it’s not just about the Xs and Os, because BYU has been playing such different teams, but instead to learn the ways players respond to different situations.

He’s excited for this week.

“[The games] just get harder and harder and harder, so we’re able to step into another level of challenge,” Pope said.

What has helped the Cougars get through this high-demand performance has been depth.

Against Utah Valley on Saturday, only two Cougars played more than 30 minutes and another two played more than 20 minutes. There were another five players who recorded more than 10, but ultimately every player checked in for at least a few minutes.

“The depth is really helping us deal with these games, also,” Pope said. “And it’s going to continue to be really important.”

Pope said he’s “super proud” of his players for their willingness to accept the minutes he’s offered them, even if they are just a few.

Trevin Knell came off the bench to play 24 minutes for the Cougars against Utah Valley and hit a key 3-pointer to spark the offense when they found themselves trailing by 10 points in the first half. The sophomore said his biggest takeaway from the first week of the season was how the team was able to fight through the frustration and trust each other.

“That’s what we’re going to take into next week when we play USC and UConn and Utah State,” Knell said.

BYU AT USC

At Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Conn.

Tipoff » Tuesday, 12:30 p.m. MT

TV » ESPN2

Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius 143.

Records » BYU 3-0; USC 2-0

All-time series » USC leads 7-3

Last meeting » USC 91, BYU 84 (Dec. 3, 2016)

About BYU » After three games, senior Alex Barcello is leading the team, averaging 21.3 points on 66% shooting. ... The Cougars lost junior forward Gavin Baxter last week, who will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury. … Purdue transfer Matt Haarms made his BYU debut Saturday after suffering an ankle injury a couple of weeks ago. He won’t be on a minute restrictions this week.

About USC » The Trojans are a relatively young team, led by a sophomore core of Ethan Anderson, Isaiah Mobley and Max Agbonkpolo. … USC entered this season having won 109 games over the past five seasons, the winningest five-year stretch in school history. … In its first two games, USC has six players averaging 10.0 points or more.

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